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Got Milk Money?

More profit per cow keeps Straubs prosperous

January 30, 2003 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer
  Terri Hawbaker and Father Howard Straub

Howard and Mary Jo Straub and daughter Terri Hawbaker make a solid family living — and even take two months off during the winter (unheard of for small family dairies) — milking a herd of just 100 cows. The smallest size herd that dairy experts now recommend is more like 300 cows, while the average startup size is approximately 2,000 cows.

Any less and you might as well subdivide your farm, say the experts, because the increasing number of dairies with 10,000 and 20,000 cows keep the market so full of milk that processors don’t have to pay much for it.

The Straubs, however, have found a way to prosper and keep living on their land near St. Johns even as milk prices dip. Rather than focus on increasing the amount of milk they sell, they work on increasing the amount of profit each cow makes. The family dairy has succeeded in increasing its net profit per cow from $300 to $900 since 1994 while keeping their farm out of major debt and at a manageable size.

Their secret? They let the cows do most of the work.

The Straubs run electric fencing up and down their hayfields to create 4-acre paddocks. They then move the cows from paddock to paddock on a daily basis in an intensive grazing system pioneered by farmers in New Zealand. By the time the cows return to the first paddock, the grass has grown tall and nutritious enough again for them to eat. In the meantime, the cows have spread their own manure and kept pests on the run.

“It’s really nice when you get your milk check and you get to keep most of it instead of handing it over to the feed salesman,” Mary Jo says.
The Straubs also have little need for the big machinery that most farms require. “We don’t buy anything that rusts, rots, or depreciates,” Howard says. That means most of their money ends up on the bottom “net profit” line.

The family also is looking forward to increasing the top “sales” line of their farm’s income statement. The Straubs now are investigating such profit opportunities as making all-natural cheese from their high-value, grass-fed milk.

Contacts: Howard Straub, Michigan Hay and Grazing Council President,
989-224-3112 or

New Agriculture Profiles: Investing in Farm Futures

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