Jahnke’s Hemlock Valley Dairy Farm ~ Working together for success

CE-MR-3-Hemlock Valley4by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
The sign on the front of the main barn, facing highway 28 in Milford, NY, says it all.
“Hemlock Valley Farm, the Jahnke’s – working together” the sign proclaims.

Jahnkes received the sign as a gift in the early ‘90s.
“The working together motto is one that we always fall back on when things get ‘testy’,” remarks Matt Jahnke. “I believe that is our biggest strength and it’s why we are so successful; it’s our ability to work together not only as business partners, but as a family.”
Matt says his grandfather still waits until the last load comes in or for the tractor to pull in the driveway before he will go home. “When we have a common goal and work together, there is very little that we can’t do because it’s in our blood and in the values we all share as a family.”

Matt’s grandfather, Reinhardt Jahnke, originally established the farm in 1970, then moved the farm base.
“We started farming at this location in 1989 and grew to our current numbers in the early 90’s, reports Matt. “Our heifer numbers have grown quite a bit since then due to an intensified reproduction regiment.”

According to Matt all of the Holstein heifers are bred to Jersey bulls for their first calves “for ease of management, as well as calving ease.” The resultant crossbred calves are either sold to local dairies looking to expand, or sold at auction.

Matt attended Morrisville College for 2 years and Cornell for another 2 years. His 22-year-old brother Mitchell holds one Associates Degree in Dairy Science and another in Agriculture Engineering. The brothers attend many of the progressive dairy programs available through Cornell.

The ‘Group Housed Dairy Calf Systems’ symposium they recently attended influenced their way of thinking about housing their calves.

“We’re in the works of trying the group housing theory,” stated Mitch. He points out nine groups of five calves each. “We made a budget group housing set up by simply putting five hutches touching, side by side, and gates around the front of them. We have five pail feeders that hang on the gates. Each feeder has five nipples on it. So it is a group-housing concept, except they are still limit fed.” Mitch says the calves do seem to be much healthier and stronger compared to the ones that are fed with just pails.

“We’re in the works of building a new facility that will provide better housing for our calves, making the job less labor intensive and keeping the calves healthy.”

A “Precision Feeding” symposium, presented by leading researcher and dairy nutrition consultant Dr. Charles G. Schwab and Cornell University Extension Dairy Nutritionist Dr. Larry Chase, also influenced the Jahnkes. The program explained the science behind amino acid nutrition and how it works in dairy rations.

“We’ve started to play with amino acids and have had really good luck with it,” Matt reports. “We’ve seen a boost in milk yield and more consistency in the barn among the animals.”

Hemlock Valley works closely with nutritionist Harry Bristol from Lutz feed for their feeding program and has retained the same employee, who does their feeding 2xD, for the past 25 years.
Matt says his Uncle Marc takes care of the nutrient management, is the “crops guy” and handles the CAFO Plan. “He keeps track of all of that and the machinery, while my Dad, Mike, takes care of all the details in the barn and on the herd.”

Innovative Mike Jahnke began building cow mattresses for the farm many years ago, using layers of rubber discs and a canvas-like material for a cover. “They last about 3 years.”

Planning long-term goals are one of the things that Matt and Mitch feel are extremely important for their farm family and is a concept they say, that was reinforced at another program they attended.

“Attending the Academy for Dairy Executives program helped us to focus on goals both long-term an

d short-term,” said Matt. “It got us thinking about being more goal oriented. To have goals larger and more focused than ‘have enough feed for the year and don’t go broke,’ which in their right are reasonable goals some years!”
“Where do you see this business in 5 years? Where do you see it in 10 years? 15 years? 40 years? Write it down, work towards it, make it a goal, make it happen!”

Both Matt and Mitch say that attending the program gave them the opportunity to meet other dairy farmers from other areas of the state to share ideas and make connections. “It’s not very often you get a lot of us together in one spot and we’re not working,” Matt acknowledges. “Talking to them in an environment that makes them think and gets them talking. It also got us thinking about estate planning and communications on the farm.”

Mitchell advises young farmers to continue with their education after high school. “For younger folks I would have to surely recommend that they go to some sort of college. I constantly find myself referring back to things I learned at college.”

Mitchell says Agricultural Engineering has been a great help to him.

“I use my new learned skills everyday, as things constantly break. When I was in college my goal was that when I graduated I wanted to have the skills to rebuild an engine and treat a cow. Now looking back, those goals seemed almost silly because there is so much more to managing a farm than that. I think it’s often forgotten that a farm is a business, on paper it’s no different.”

Jahnke’s are currently milking 500 head, 3xD, producing about 80 pounds per cow per day and are shipping 40,000. Their components run about 2.9 protein and 3.9 fat. They have about 130 dry cows and nearly 500 young stock.
The farm works about 2,000 acres of land, producing high moisture corn, soybeans, oats, rye and sunflowers. They mix their own feed.

“There is no limit to what you do in farming,” said Mitch.

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