Immediately after morning milking, a New Jersey dairy herd was loaded into a tractor-trailer, bound for a farm in Pennsylvania. That evening proved to be memorable.
“We had 55 cows that had come out of a tie stall facility, not used to being in a freestall barn, with people they had never seen, and had just ridden for three hours in a tractor trailer in the rain,” said Bobby Geiman, who now owns the cows with his wife Shelly. “These cows had never been in a parlor — they walked in and backed right out. Shelly’s job was to grab the tail and hold the cow in place until the next cow entered. The cows were nervous, and had no idea what was going on. It took us four hours to milk 55 cows, but within three days, they were fine.”
That’s how Bobby recalls the first several days of milking his own herd, RAS Holsteins in Littlestown, PA. Bobby has been interested in farming since he was young, but never knew how it would all come together. “When I was 13, I worked for a neighbor feeding calves, then other work as I got older,” he said. “I’d get off the bus and work on the farm.”
Bobby worked at numerous Maryland farms and other ag-related businesses, including a butcher shop and ag equipment dealer. When he was 18, he landed a full-time herdsman position at a dairy farm and spent the next 13 years absorbing all the information he could. “My main focus was the cows,” said Bobby. “That’s when I took the A.I. breeding course and learned about sire selection.”
He and Shelly married and started to purchase young dairy calves for what they hoped would one day be their own herd. Although the Geimans had moved numerous times, their goal remained the same: to build a herd that was theirs. They had started to amass excellent bloodlines in their young animals, but were forced to sell all but two when milk prices took a dive. It was a tough blow, but Bobby never lost sight of his dream.
What brought that dream together was a phone call from a dairy farmer friend who told the Geimans there was a farm in Littlestown, PA, available to rent. At about the same time, Bobby learned of a dairy herd in New Jersey that was for sale. The Geimans purchased 55 cows from that herd, added them to their seven springing heifers and they were in business.
Shelly, who didn’t grow up on a farm, says they gathered a lot of momentum in a very short time. It’s been one year since they moved those 55 cows to the farm, and today, they’re milking 80 Holsteins and Jerseys that are theirs, and a group of Brown Swiss for another farm.
Since the cows they purchased were already bred and in milk, Bobby didn’t see the results of his own carefully planned breeding program until June 2014. When he’s looking at sires, he selects bulls for traits that he believes are important to building a strong herd. “I want 1,200 pounds of milk and no less than two points on type,” said Bobby. “I want good feet and legs. If they aren’t walking, they aren’t eating and they aren’t making milk.”
The Geimans realize the value of other professionals looking objectively at their business, so they assembled a profit team that includes the herd veterinarian, nutritionist, banker and the Maryland-Virginia Coop field rep. “We all have the same goals,” said Bobby. “We try to keep milk production and fat up and somatic cell count down.”
One recent decision the team discussed was adding a third milking to the daily routine. “Because this is a rented facility and we don’t do any of the field work, all of our money comes from milk,” said Bobby. “It takes us two hours to milk 80 cows, so for 20 hours out of the day, the parlor is idle. We’re already paying for it, so we decided to step it up and milk three times a day. The first several pickups after we started milking 3x, we gained 9.5 pounds per cow.”
Shelly says their profit team agreed that 3x milking was a good plan. “It has taken some time to figure out the schedule,” she said. “We didn’t want to exhaust ourselves — it was a balancing act. There’s a lot of trial and error, and that’s the way it’s going to be for a while until we find out what works.”
Bobby does very little milking — he likes to concentrate on the cows and manages feed, health and reproduction. Shelly does most of the milking along with part time hired help, and exclusively cares for calves.
The Geimans’ son Connor is 17, and is interested in the daily operation of the family’s farm. He’s involved in 4-H and shows the ‘V’ cattle. “He encouraged us to find our own place,” said Shelly. “He’s learning the genetics, learning the milking routine from start to finish and is learning how to breed. He plays high school football on Friday nights, but on Saturday nights, he’s handling the late-night milking shift.” Daughter Sydni, who is 12, is also in 4-H. She milks with her dad on Sunday afternoons and is learning other farm tasks.
“We’re looking ahead but keeping things in perspective,” said Shelly as she described their first year of dairy farming. “We’ve learned not to get too overjoyed at things that go well and not too down about things that didn’t go as we planned.”