cows in field

Changing to Grow: Expanding the Family Dairy Stauderman Farm, Groton, NY, owned and operated by Karl and Tiffany Stauderman

By Tamara Scully, NODPA News contributing writer

The Stauderman Family: Karl, Tiffany, Klara and Lydia

Karl Stauderman’s father, Philip, began the family business of farming on a small farm growing sweet corn and soybeans in New Jersey. After moving the family to Central New York, he continued to farm, switching from row crops to feeder pigs. That enterprise soon evolved into a heifer rearing outfit. In 1988, Philip began a dairy farm, operating out of a rented 38 cow tie stall barn. In 1994, a converted freestall barn with a flat stall milking parlor became home to the herd.

Philip opted to put the cows out to graze, which required less labor, and less feed to harvest. Since the cows were already consuming a good portion of their dry matter intake from grazing, and the organic market was strong and growing, it only made sense to convert to certified organic production. The family began the process of converting the dairy to certified organic - under older transition rules and shipped their first organic milk in 2002.

“The pasture rule wasn’t out yet,” when they transitioned, Karl said, but with 65 tillable acres, the dairy was going to need more pasture. They were planning to increase herd size to compensate for the decrease seen in milk production under organic management.

Karl had been working for his dad nights and weekends while attending Cornell, a mere 12 miles from home. He was back on the farm full-time in 2005. They had grown the herd from 45 to 90 cows by 2008.

Karl purchased a nearby farm which hadn’t been worked in a while, and could be certified as organic immediately. The property had an existing tie stall barn for milking. He and his father began a “loosely based” business association.

“The new farm was all in grass, ready to go,” with the needed infrastructure, including barns and perimeter fencing, Karl said.

Today, Philip does all of the cropping, and Karl does all of the livestock. Crops are grown on both of their farms, and cows are found on each farm, too, although the milking herd is all housed at Karl’s farm. Combined, with owned and rented land, the entire operation including land for crops and the dairy herd is now based on 800 acres of tillable land in both Genoa and Groton, New York.

Originally, they were milking in both barns, which was “painful,” so they consolidated the lactating cows onto the new farm, and opted to keep heifers at his father’s original farm, about seven miles away, Karl said.

Karl’s home farm in Groton has 326 total acres, with 85 in permanent pasture. There are 225 acres of tillable crop land. It features a 90 cow tie stall facility housing 88 cows. Another 65 cow tie stall barn located across the road houses dry cows during the winter. The tie stall housing for the milking herd was built in 1978, and was probably one of the last of the tie stalls built in the area. They bed the barns with straw.

Calves are located at Karl’s farm, housed in individual hutches before they are transferred to a straw bedded pack barn. At one year of age, they are moved to the heifer housing, which is in the free stall barn at his dad’s farm, where they remain until just prior to freshening.

Karl purchased cows when they expanded to two farms in 2008, but the herd has been a closed one since then. Unfortunately, he suspects that Staphylococcus aureus was brought in with the purchase, and still appears on occasion today. He culls any cow with Staph immediately to try to eliminate this pathogen.

Breeding and Feeding

The 90 head herd, not including dry cows and springing heifers, is about one-third pure bred Jersey. They also have Holsteins. The Jerseys have less calving problems and leg issues, but they’ve found that the Jersey calves are challenging to raise. They began some crossbreeding a few years ago, and while Karl likes the first-generation crosses, he’s not so enthusiastic about feet and leg problems he’s seen in subsequent generations. They no longer crossbreed.

The lactating cows are bred AI only, and the heifers - housed at his father’s facility - are all bred with bulls. When choosing sires for AI, calving ease is a top priority, to reduce hard calves and subsequent problems. The dry cows, housed on Karl’s farm, are bred to Jersey bulls, but he doesn’t keep any of the crossbred calves. Otherwise, he raises all the heifer calves for replacements, culling cows to make room.

“There’s always a reason I want to get rid of somebody,” he said, although he will re-evaluate raising all his heifer calves, as it “cost so much to raise a heifer.”

Karl has been participating in a research study evaluating the cost of raising a certified organic dairy heifer, focusing on the economics. He also realizes that it might be in his best interest to breed some cows to beef genetics in the near future.

Feed Regime

The winter feeding season runs from mid-October through until mid-April. They feed a total mixed ration to the milking herd, along with minerals. Minerals are top dressed for other cow groups.

“We grow everything we feed,” Karl said. That includes corn silage, Sudangrass for baleage and silage, and clover baleage. His father is in charge of growing the crops, which can change a bit each year. Karl formulates the rations based on what his father has available. Philip does at times sell some of the harvested crops.

The lactating cows are fed a 50/50 mix of haylage and corn silage/Sudan grass silage. They received 10-12 pounds of high moisture corn, and two to four pounds of soybeans. This year, he is feeding less soybeans, and therefore shipping a bit less milk, as the price of certified organic soybeans on the market is high enough to justify selling - and not feeding - them.

They would need two pounds of milk from one pound of soy to justify feeding it this year, and he doesn’t think he’d get that. So they are selling some of the soybeans. “Are we losing money feeding it to a cow, or should we sell it?” is the question they are always trying to answer, Karl said.

The herd was fed a high-forage ration, even prior to organic certification. Today, the fed cow diet is about 80 percent forage, Karl said. They have seen a reduction in displaced abomasum as dietary grains were decreased.

Karl’s farm originally had upright silos, but after ten years he made the switch to bunk silos to decrease labor needs, cutting the hours needed to feed the herd from five hours to two. Since Karl does the livestock labor himself, he is always trying to gain efficiency.

Pasture and Grazing

The grazing season is most limited by the amount of rain received each year. The milking herd has 70 acres of dedicated pastures which are never used for hay, and which are plowed under in a four-year rotation, with a quarter of the pasture being renewed each year. Each approximately 1.1 acre paddock is planted to a King’s AgriSeeds grazing mix upon renewal. First, the paddock is plowed, and corn is planted. Following harvest, the land is re-seeded to pasture.

The milking herd is turned out to pasture in mid-April, and by May they are getting about 90 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing. By the end of the grazing season in late October, the pasture DMI is about 33 percent. By July they only graze at night, avoiding heat stress, and the grazing rotation is doubled.

During the summer, pasture forages are primarily clover and rye grass. Steel posts and 12 gauge wire, which are not moved, are used to fence the paddocks. The cows rotate through the fixed paddocks. “I just look at grass,” Karl said of his grazing management strategy. He notes the height of the pasture, and its composition. Because he plows and reseeds each pasture every four years, he isn’t too concerned about long-term effects of overgrazing on the forage stands. By the end of the fourth year, he’ll see some drop in milk as the pasture intake drops.“I want them to go out and I want them to eat everything, and then we can make it up in the barn,” if there is something lacking in the diet, he said.

Dry cows are on 100 percent pasture from April through September, then are fed in the 65 cow tie stall barn for the winter. There is not a watering system in these pastures, and they rely on creek water. The farm hosts a large healthy gorge that has never run dry, even during extreme drought conditions.

Calf Program

Because they are using bulls as well as AI, there are a lot of calves born in February and March. The plan is to utilize all AI in the future. For now, a lot of the calving happens in a three week period, but Karl is looking forward to year-round calving and spreading out that workload.

Calves are housed in individual hutches, a system that he feels works well and decreases health concerns. Calves are bottle fed for two weeks, then they are trained to buckets, and weaned at four months of age. During the first week of bottle feeding warm milk is used. Calves then are switched to cold milk before being fed sour milk. Karl leaves whole milk left out to sour for about 10-12 hours.

He is very satisfied with sour milk feeding, which allows him to store milk and use it when needed. He does have to balance milk supply with the number of calves drinking.

Upon weaning, the calves move into a transition barn, which is a 30' X 40' straw bedded pack with feed pack. The pack is cleaned out once or twice per year, and is spread onto the fields every two years, depending on land availability for spreading. The bedded pack barn serves as a training ground for the free stall barn, where they are moved at one year of age.

Manure Handling

Karl’s farm is a daily-spread farm, with manure from the tie stall cleaned with a gutter cleaner and hauled onto fields. There is no manure storage here, and although he’d like to have that, the barn is within 30 feet of a trout stream, complicating matters. Instead, he’s hoping that within the next five years, he can increase on-farm efficiency, including custom hiring for manure spreading.

At his father’s farm, the manure from the free stall heifer barn is stored in a 3/4 million gallon lagoon. It is spread every other year.

Because the cows at Karl’s farm have to cross the road to get to some of the pastures, they also periodically use the scrapper to clean manure from the road. Ideally, they’d like to construct a tunnel crossing under the road to avoid the scrapping, prevent backing up traffic, and protect the cows from aggressive drivers, but the expense is prohibitive. They put up ropes and stop signs when the cows need to cross, which can be up to four times per day in the spring and summer, and try to avoid crossing during busy traffic hours.

Cow Productivity and Health

The goal is for the 90 head milking cows to produce 13,000 - 13,500 pounds of milk per year. Without soybeans, which is the case this year, Karl expects to produce 12,500 pounds of milk. The components typically are at 4.2 percent butterfat and 3.2 percent protein. Somatic cell count varies throughout the year, but on average is 150,000. Part of the reason the SCC isn’t lower is that Karl does all the twice per day milking by himself. If he had help, he expects things wouldn’t be so rushed, and the SCC would be lower.

The Staphylococcus aureus continues to be a herd health challenge, and all cows are tested at four to 10 days fresh. About one in 88 cows has recently tested positive. Part of the reason he is still raising every calf is that he doesn’t really know how many fresh cows will tests positive and be culled.

The biggest herd health issue, however, is foot warts. The barn set-up doesn’t allow for a foot bath, so he treats the herd each spring with copper sulfate. The only vaccine the herd receives regularly is for pink eye.

Future Vision

The family has had to make sacrifices, sometimes feeling as if they were taking “a step backwards to go forward,” such as taking on real estate debt instead of upgrading infrastructure at his dad’s existing farm, in order to grow and remain profitable. All the buildings on the farm are old and need upgrades. Constantly repairing plumbing and structural items can really eat into Karl’s already busy schedule.

But the biggest limiting factor is that Karl is doing all of the breeding, feeding, milking, manure spreading and other day-to-day hands on herd activities. Philip tends to all of the crops, along with a part-time laborer. Karl’s wife, Tiffany, keeps the herd records and does some of the calf feeding along with payroll and the cow side of the organic plan, in addition to her full-time job at Cornell. Karl and Tiffany have two children.

Karl does participate in organic dairy discussion groups, but with limited time, he isn’t able to do so as much as would be ideal.

Increasing on-farm efficiency is the main goal moving into the future. Automation - possibly including robotic milking - which will decrease the amount of time and labor Karl puts in each day is key. “It’s going to be me spending on labor-saving technology,” Karl said. “Anything I can do to save myself five or 10 minutes.”

Another venture they’ve added to diversify income stream, without adding too much time or labor to operate, is a farm stay rental. Karl’s farm was originally two separate farms, divided by the road, with a farmhouse on each parcel. As they do not have hired labor, the “extra” aging farmhouse, after renovation, presented an opportunity for short-term vacation rentals.

“This coming summer will be our third year renting the unused farmhouse for seasonal short-term rentals,” Tiffany said. “We’ve discovered short-term is more profitable and easier on the house than renting long-term. Heating both houses in winter is very challenging.”

The couple did also try having a “glamping” (glamor/luxury camping) campsite for a short period, but it wasn’t a good fit. The “glampers” proved to be too needy, requiring time and attention the busy family didn’t have to spare.

Since purchasing the farm, the couple has found the neighbors to be friendly and supportive, for which they are grateful. Not only are they supportive of the dairy farming, but the neighbors also look out for one another, making the farm a part of a true community.

Karl and Tiffany Stauderman can be reached at Stauderman Farm, 315-480-8665, 74 Talmadge Rd, Groton, NY 13073