Small dairy transplant from California thrives in Windsor because of ideal Colorado conditions for cows
FENCE POST EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Colorado dairy by the numbers for September 2014
» Number of milk cows: 145,000
» Production per cow: 2,055 pounds
» Total milk output: 298 million pounds
» Volume growth compared to September 2013: 10.8 percent
Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service
With 90 cows for milking, Windsor’s Front Range Jersey Dairy lays claim to one of the smallest commercial herds in Colorado.
Manager Dan Duhalde estimated his cows produce “only 4,000 pounds a day” — just a drop in the bucket for his main buyer, Leprino Foods, and a modest level compared to the 850-cow operation once run by his family in Chino, Calif.
A small facility was exactly what the Duhaldes had in mind, however, when the fourth-generation dairy family decided to leave its native stomping ground in search of better opportunity elsewhere.
With the market ripe for dairy growth in Colorado, Dan, his wife Patty and his daughter Nicole landed on the Front Range. Under the guidance of the American Jersey Cattle Association, the family found its current location in Windsor, where the dairy shares space with independent cheesemaker Cozy Cow Dairy.
“There were a number of states that we considered moving to,” Dan said. “This facility came up for rent, and it was perfect. It was small, and we’d always heard good things about Colorado, but we never thought there’d be the opportunity for such a small dairy. There are some pretty large herds out here.”
Although small, Duhalde’s operation in Windsor reflects larger industry growth in Colorado, propelled by the demands of Leprino Foods for its plants in Greeley and Fort Morgan.
Colorado’s dairy industry experienced some of the strongest growth nationwide during the July to September quarter, with production rising 9 percent to 920 million pounds, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported. Nationally, dairy grew 3.5 percent during the quarter.
Although Colorado ranks low for overall production, the state yields the best volume per cow in the nation. In September, the Centennial State reported 2,055 pounds of milk per cow. In California, the number one state for dairy volume, production per cow came in at 1,850 pounds.
Cindy Haren, president and CEO of the Western Dairy Association, said the high yield in Colorado goes hand in hand with cow comfort.
“Cows really like Colorado. We have good feed quality and good water quality,” she said. “We’re not a huge dairy state, but our farmers produce really high quality milk here.”
When asked how Colorado’s conditions have compared to those in California, the Duhaldes voiced many of the same points as Haren.
Standing out on their lot overlooking the Rocky Mountains, Dan and his wife Patty traded off listing the factors that make Colorado ideal for dairy.
“It’s given us hope that our family can continue in this business because it’s given us an opportunity,” Dan said.
“There’s access to feed, great hay. Cows like the climate. It’s a good, clean environment. It’s not overcrowded,” Patty added.
“Definitely, and the water is just the best water I’ve ever seen,” Dan said.
Despite the harsh Colorado winters, Dan’s daughter, Nicole, said the herd has adapted well to its new home.
“Our cows are pretty comfortable in winter. I thought they did better in the winter here than in the summer in California. In the winter, you can keep them warm and bed them down, but in the summer out there, it can be really hard to keep them cool,” she said.
Like Dan, Nicole grew up with cows and, at the age of 23, she has already decided to make a career out of dairy.
“I love it. There are always bad days on jobs, but I think I’d rather have a bad day here than anywhere else. I do love cows. They get you wrapped around their little hooves,” she said, taking a break from milking.
“We know the cows very well. My dad and I are out here every single day with them. They do all have different personalities. Working on a smaller dairy, I’ve been able to see that a little more. They’re all quirky in their own ways. They are very docile.”
Through Dairy Farmers of America’s Young Cooperators Program, Nicole has had the opportunity to participate in industry events, including a conference this week in Texas.
The Duhaldes spoke highly of their relationship with various dairy associations and the role they have played in integrating the family into Colorado’s industry.
When the Duhaldes arrived to Colorado two years ago, Haren and other members of Western Dairy Association were waiting to greet and welcome them to their new facility.
The association now provides the Duhaldes informational material to share with students during the dairy’s public tours.
Additionally, through an agreement with Dairy Farmers of America, the family sends a large portion of its milk to Leprino Foods for processing.
“DFA comes every day. You let them know what your production is going to be for the year and they’ve been really awesome. They made it all possible,” Dan said.
DFA’s Dennis Rodenbaugh explained how the marketing cooperative works with Leprino to source milk to its plants in Colorado.
“Leprino Foods is the world’s largest producer of mozzarella cheese, and DFA members supply milk to the plant. To support the plant’s production, there has been an active effort to encourage growth among existing dairies and recruit new dairies to the area,” said Rodenbaugh, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Western Fluid Group.
“The strong milk market has encouraged dairy farmers to invest there, and because Colorado offers great support for animal agriculture and a wonderful lifestyle for dairy farm families, it is an attractive location for large dairies.”
Rodenbaugh anticipated continued growth in Colorado to keep pace with the industry’s greater goals.
“There is still a need for more milk to meet production demands and Colorado’s natural attributes and milk markets will continue to support new dairies and to encourage existing dairies to grow at an appropriate rate,” Rodenbaugh said.
“The trend in growth is expected to continue well into 2017. While feed costs have been low, it is expected that they will continue to decline further, and sustain current production growth trends and forecasts for the future.”
After Front Range Jersey Dairy’s lease ends in two years, Dan said he hopes to expand the operation, possibly at a larger facility. Nicole said she will look to grow and improve as well, but the priority always will be the cows.
“We always have goals for better genetics and high quality. But as long as we have cows, we’ll be pretty content with that,” she said. ❖
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