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Fri, Jun 6th, 2003
Posted in Features
Posted in Features
June is a month that is set aside to honor our local dairy farmers and also make the public aware of their contributions to the community. One of the traditions of June Dairy month is Dairy Day on the Farm. This year’s proud host is one of Fillmore County’s largest dairies, Johnson Rolling Acres. The family owned and operated farm sits on the prairie southwest of Rushford.
Johnson Rolling Acres was started in 1979 by Leroy Johnson and four of his sons. The dairy originally held 150 cows until the new dairy was built in 2000, and the operation was upgraded to around 700 cows. Leroy Johnson’s children (and also their families) have shared ownership and work responsibilities since its start. Some have even moved on to other interests but later came back to the farm. At present, Leroy is semi-retired, part owner and also fills in as tour guide. Mark Johnson is in charge of the dairy, along with Gerald Eide (Leroy’s son-in-law) who manages the feed. Richard and Brad Johnson work with the crops, hogs and general maintenance. Leroy Jr. (Ike) helps with the farm’s heifers and with hoof trimming. Steve Oian, Jr., Leroy’s grandson also helps out with the heifers. Ellen Eide (Leroy’s daughter) serves as secretary. The Johnson’s are quick to point out that their family isn’t the only one involved in the dairy as they rely on other operations to support their effots. An example is Doug and Deb Ristau’s D & D Farms in Preston who are just one of a number of families that help with the dairy by raising heifer calves. The 700 cow dairy operation isn’t the only farming the Johnsons do however. In addition to milking, they finish hogs and raise 1750 acres of corn and 600 acres of alfalfa. "We are a very diversified farm," says Leroy. "We provide a lot of opportunity for a lot of young kids in the area." Besides the family, Johnson Rolling Acres has 21 employees. Most of these are college students from Winona State and high school students from Rushford. The Johnson’s milking operation is highly organized. There are three milking shifts. Each shift is 5 1/2 to 6 hours with three people milking each shift. The shifts are at 7:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. The milkers go through a specific milking procedure to ensure efficiency. The milking parlor is all electronic, with the main body of the milking machines located in a room under the parlor to make it more convenient for the milkers. The milk is run through a set of pipes and in a very short amount of time is cooled to 40 degrees and stored in a 6,000 gallon bulk tank. Each day of the week is set aside for certain tasks such as vet checks, cleaning, hoof trimming, drying up the cattle, and other farm duties. There is also a milk tester who comes once a month to monitor herd production information. Managing a large dairy requires organization, with the Johnsons employing an intricate computer system to maintain efficiency. There is a computer in the office, one in the vet room, and also one set up specifically for the milk tester. Each of the 700 cattle not only have numbered ear tags but also have a collar with a computer chip in it. This measures each individual cow’s milk production and other technical facts that the Johnsons need to ensure quality milk production. Given fluxuating milk prices and environmental concerns, the Johnsons work hard to maintain high quality milk and to also be environmentally friendly. The humane treatment of animals is one such concern. Johnson Rolling Acres’ bountiful bovines have nothing to complain about. They live in a large barn in four groups of 150 cows each. The cows are brought at their own pace to the milking parlor when it’s their turn to be milked. An air push gate slowly nudges them into their stanchions. This however is not always needed as the cattle generally walk in on their own. After they are milked, the animals get automatically sprayed for flies as they leave. If a cow needs to be separated out for some reason, their tag number is typed into the computer. An ingenious electronic system automatically separates her from the others after milking. The milking parlor is meticulously cleaned every day, and the cow barn is flushed three times a day as cows are being milked. The cattle are fed a healthy mixture of corn silage, haylage, cotton seed, soybean meal, and pre-mixed minerals. They’re bedded with sand to keep them dry and comfortable. In the summer, fans cool them. They are even treated to radiant floor heating in the holding area and parlor during the winter. The Johnson family is eager for the public to understand what they do and how their farm works. "I’ve done it (farming) my whole life," says Mark. "I feel I’m producing a quality product for everyone." The Johnsons had originally wanted to have an open house after they expanded in 2000, but were advised against it because of the foot and mouth disease outbreak overseas. The breakfast on the farm event now gives them the opportunity to welcome and also educate the public about the dairy industry. For those who aren’t able to attend breakfast on the farm don’t despair. "By appointment, we’d love to have visitors," states Leroy. Johnsons’ Rolling Acres’ mission statement sums up their dedication to the community. "Johnson Rolling Acres strives to produce high quality agricultural products in a modern and highly efficient manner, while still being a good neighbor and a good steward of land, water, and other resources. It strives to provide a high quality of life for its owner, employees, and their families.” Dairy Day on the Farm will be held June 21 from 9:00 a.m. until noon. To get to Johnson Rolling Acres from Rushford, go south on Hwy 43 to Bratsberg, turn right on Co. Rd. 10, travel 1.5 miles, turn right at Jct. 10/37, go 1/4 mile, turn left and watch for signs. Janette Dragvold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.