Working on a dairy is not easy. Animals must be fed, moved and milked on a constant basis.
Pens must be cleaned and fixed. Crops need to be irrigated, monitored and harvested at just the right time. For Chris and Mary Kraft, however, this is exactly why they love working on a dairy so much.
“I love being around the cattle, and being in nature. Every day, you get to work outside and get to work with animals. I love that,” said Chris Kraft.
The Kraft family owns two dairies in Fort Morgan, Colo.: the Badger Creek Dairy, which is their home dairy, and the Quail Ridge Dairy.
Both Chris and Mary Kraft grew up around dairy cattle. Even though he was born in New York, Chris Kraft spent the majority of his childhood in South Africa, where his family milked a handful of dairy cattle by hand. Mary Kraft grew up on one of the oldest dairies in Colorado, the Macintosh Dairy.
The two met while attending Colorado State University, and married in 1986. Two years later, they bought Badger Creek, and were back in the dairy business.
After expanding the Badger Creek Dairy, they made the decision to build a second dairy, which opened in January 2007. “We were at the point where we had to decide to get bigger or get out, and we had expanded as much as we could at Badger Creek. So we decided to build the second dairy,” Kraft said.
They currently milk around 5,000 cows, three times per day all year at the Quail Ridge Dairy. At Badger Creek, they milk between 800-1000 cows. This farm is used to milk the cows when they are first freshened, and once they are ready, they are moved to Quail Ridge.
Once the cows are dried off, they will head back to Badger Creek for the rest of their pregnancy and through calving, and then the process starts all over again. The heifer calves are grown out at Badger Creek, and raised as replacements. The bull calves are sold to feedlots.
The Kraft family believes in treating each cow as if she were the only cow on the property. They do this by providing the highest quality care that they can, each and every day.
Every cow wears an electronic identification tag that tracks vital information on that cow. It tracks milk production, temperature of the milk, quantity produced and the time she is milked.
This information is vital to the Krafts, and gives them an early warning if a cow isn’t feeling well and her milk production suddenly drops. A veterinarian checks the cows every week, and problems are caught early and treated immediately.
The cows are milked in a double 50 parallel, and their udders are checked and cleaned at every milking. The automated milking machines sense when the cow is finished and automatically drops off, helping to ease any discomfort that could be caused from the machine after the cow is finished giving milk. Once all the cows on one side are done, they are released all at once, and the process begins again.
The comfort of the cows is of high importance, and the way the Krafts’ barns are designed allows for maximum air flow and sanitation.
The have access to free-stalls in the middle of the barn, which are bedded with compost, fluffed and cleaned dairy. The aisles also have an automated scraper, which pulls waste into a central slot, where it is then swept into a collection pit. This waste is separated, and the solid material is made into compost, which is then used to bed the stalls.
The liquid portion is recycled, or used on their 1,300 acres of farm ground to help grow the crops. The entire system helps the farm to be more sustainable.
An on-staff nutritionist is constantly adjusting rations so that the cows are receiving everything they need, every single day. The ration is a total mixed ration that the cows have free-choice access to, and it’s freshened several times to day to keep the cows on feed.
Every day the family faces challenges with the cows, but that is why they love the business. “I like it because the challenges that it presents. I like to overcome the difficulties that the weather, the market, and all of those other aspects present,” Kraft stated.
He identified two main challenges that he deals with right now: input costs and labor. “Feed is really expensive, and in fact all of our input costs have been really high. That has been a challenging part, because it’s been hard to make a little money. A lot of people in livestock agriculture have been faced with that problem,” he said.
He added, “Another challenge is finding people who want to work in agriculture. You are out in the cold, the heat and the bad weather. It’s difficult to find people to help us with the work.”
He hopes this year will be better, as they want to continually invest back into the dairy to make it better for both the cows and the people. One highlight for the family this year is the return of the son, Stratton Kraft, to the farm.
“Our son is home and he’s getting back into working with us. It’s been fun working with him,” Kraft said.
One aspect of their farm that is unique is their transparency. Above the milking parlor is a viewing room, where local community members, tour groups and anyone interested in seeing how the dairy works can see firsthand for themselves what it looks like.
“Not a lot of people are involved in the production part of agriculture anymore. There are very few people who are familiar with it, but a lot of them have a relative who was involved. People really want to know where there food is coming from more and more,” he said.
He continued, “People don’t understand what it takes, so to be able to show them firsthand what it looks like and how it works is invaluable.”
He wants to show people how a modern dairy works. “Almost everybody in the world has a picture in their mind of agriculture: beautiful scenery and wide open spaces. People in the city crave that, and it’s beautiful to them. However, agriculture is just like any other businesses. We have applied technologies and new ways of doing things. Sometimes the picture they have in their mind and the way we really do things is different. Things are different than they expected.
One of the best things we can do is to show them. They need to know what the realities are of today’s agriculture. The only way we can tell them is for them to see it for themselves,” he explained. ❖