by Sally Colby
When John and Julie Mayer purchased farm acreage in Taneytown, MD, their plan was to develop it as a dairy. Although Julie had never milked a cow, she was willing to learn. John had helped on his grandfather’s Montgomery County, MD, dairy farm, and as a teen sought out local dairy farms where he could help. Although his college education was in economics and business, John’s interest in dairy cattle led him to pursue dairy science classes at the University of Maryland.
“He started farming the home farm in Montgomery County,” said Julie. “He was doing mostly crop farming and hay. Sometimes we had hay that couldn’t be sold to horse people but we had the facilities to raise a few heifers, so we bought heifers to raise, breed and sell.”
The Mayers became serious about dairy farming and purchased property in 1987, which became Stoney Point Farm. Julie recalls there was nothing more than an old barn and a machinery shed on the 136 acres, so the Mayers’ heifers freshened at another farm. Meanwhile, the family built a double six herringbone parlor milking parlor, furnished it with second-hand equipment and eventually constructed a freestall barn. The Mayers expanded and improved their purebred Holstein herd, then purchased Jersey heifers for their daughter Ashley and son Sean to exhibit in 4-H.
Julie said that through her children’s projects, the family learned more about the qualities of good dairy cattle. “We started to really like the Jerseys,” said Julie. “Then we got into rotational grazing and the Jerseys did better than the Holsteins.” The Mayers purchased additional acreage and worked with the Soil Conservation Service to install walkways and water lines, and were named Cooperator of the Year by the Frederick Soil Conservation District in 2015.
Long-time dairyman Michael Heath noticed the quality of the Mayers’ Jerseys and worked with them to improve the herd, teaching them the intricacies of mating selections and guiding their purchase of superior Jerseys to add to the Stoney Point herd. One outstanding cow, Stoney Point Excitation Jamie EX96, was exhibited at numerous major dairy shows and was eventually named National Grand Champion Jersey in 2013. A heifer, Stoney Point Tequila Sunrise, did equally well and was National Junior Champion the same year.
Although the Mayers were enjoying building and improving the herd, they were ready for a change. During last year’s American Jersey Cattle Association & National All-Jersey annual meeting in Gettysburg, PA, the Mayers hosted a sale that drew outstanding Jerseys from numerous farms east of the Mississippi. Although the sale included a number of Stoney Point cattle, the herd wasn’t completely dispersed.
The Mayers wanted to transition their carefully selected herd, but weren’t sure how to go about it. Once again, Heath helped by suggesting they contact Clint Lutz, a young dairy farmer interested in starting his own dairy farm.
Lutz grew up in Delaware County, NY, on his family’s dairy farm. Although the family sold out, Lutz remained interested in dairy farming, continued in 4-H, then went to Delaware Valley University. He purchased his first group of cows while employed as a herdsman in Hagerstown, MD, and was looking for a place of his own.
“We connected,” said Julie, recalling their initial meetings with Lutz. “We sold him about 30 cows and kept about 35, and he brought some of his own cows and heifers.” Lutz rents the facility and milks all the cows and purchases homegrown feed components (hay and haylage) from the Mayers.
Lutz was on the judging team in college, which he said helped him learn the traits of quality cattle of every breed. Although Lutz didn’t have a lot of experience with Jerseys, he now sees their value. “They make sense,” he said. “Size, feed efficiency and reproductive efficiency is huge.”
The herd is maintained with a combination of rotational grazing and a TMR feed in the freestall barn. “With the heavy clay soil, we can’t depend solely on grazing,” said Lutz. “I let the cows tell me what they want to do. If they didn’t eat a lot from the bunk, I know they had a lot of grass and I’ll adjust the ration.” Lutz said the Jerseys handle heat well, and even during excessive heat in July, production drop was minimal.
In talking with experienced graziers, Lutz learned the many variables in grazing including weather, the number of cows on a paddock and other unpredictable factors. However, he believes that rotational grazing contributes to cow longevity, fewer metabolic problems and better overall herd health.
In the year he has been on the farm, Lutz has made a few minor changes. “I use a barrier dip,” he said. “I’ve gone to a peroxide-based pre-dip and a heavier post-dip. The biggest change I’ve made was bedding the free stalls with sawdust on top of the mattresses. With that, I saw a bump in cows laying down and chewing cud.”
Heath continues to make mating selections for the herd, and Lutz takes every opportunity to learn from him when it comes to bull and cow matches. “He’s always done such a great job,” said Lutz. “He built this herd with them [the Mayers].”
Lutz handles the A.I., and says 60 to 70 percent of cattle are bred with sexed semen to help grow the herd. The herd conception rate, which Lutz said can be tricky to maintain, is around 49 percent. “I have better luck if they’re bred a little later in the heat,” he said, “and it’s definitely better with younger animals.” Lutz added that older cows don’t always exhibit clear signs of heat, which makes it more difficult to pinpoint the ideal breeding time.
One change Lutz made in the calf barn was from buckets to bottles, and he has seen an improvement in calves’ intake. He tests colostrum with a refractometer and saves the best colostrum from older cows. Calves are fed whole milk and receive grain as soon as they’re ready to eat it.
The current milking herd includes 75 cows and Lutz is raising 40 of his own young stock. “The first group of my own are due September first,” he said. “The first 15 were all bred by me, without Michael’s help. I’m looking forward to breeding them up and seeing how good we can make them.” Lutz added that the Mayers didn’t start with top-notch stock, and he realizes how fortunate he is to buy into a herd of such high quality.
Lutz is looking forward to achieving what the Mayers did – growing a herd of high-caliber Jerseys that perform and sell well. “With the milk market the way it is, one of the reasons I bought registered animals is to be able to market them for some side income,” he said. “I anticipate being able to get into it more next spring with my own prefix. I’m not established yet, but people will eventually get to know me.”
A twist on passing along the farm
by Sally Colby