Nebraska dairyman finds organic pays twice as much for no more work

Staff Report

BLOOMFIELD, Nebraska: Kelly Bruns was all grins as the first truckload of Certified Organic milk left his farm in early May 2006.

“Cindy and I been dreaming something like this would happen in Nebraska for six to seven years,” he said.

With high component Jersey milk, Bruns was getting $27.15 cwt from a southern Iowa organic ice cream manufacturer versus $14.78 cwt the month before from a northern Iowa non-organic ice cream maker.

“I got double the money and a year’s contract to boot,” he beamed.

Interestingly, the ice cream maker sought him, asked him to go Certified Organic and then helped find a certification agency for him.

Such service from so far away is a sure sign of the extremely tight market for organic milk nationwide today.

Bruns was certified organic in February 2006 and said the switch to organic required no change in his operations or management.

He had been farming organically without certification for six years as a personal preference.

For the same personal reasons, he had foregone feeding any supplemental grain for several years.

“I’m hoping my milk buyer will come up with a no-grain, organic label and he said he is interested.

“I figure no-grain dairy products will be the ultimate niche product,” Cindy Bruns said.

Kelly makes fast work of milking 110 cows in a 10 to-a-side, open-sided, New Zealand-style milking parlor with swing-over milking units.

Spring grass utilization is increased by grazing 25 cows on a custom basis.

He admits morning milking is a little chilly in the early spring and late fall in the open sided parlor.

Bruns’ cows are all bred for a mid-April to December 1, seasonal lactation and he loves seasonal production.

“There’s not enough money in the world to make me go back to year around milking,” he said.

Getting his cows to stay seasonal was not easy initially and required a lot of genetic tinkering.

He briefly experimented with French genetics but has returned to Jersey to keep the body phenotype size small.

“I’ve spent seven years getting my cows’ genetics right. I want a herd that will milk on grass alone and breed back.”

He said the big problem was finding grass-friendly semen or bulls. He finally decided to just produce his own bulls from his own herd.


One new trick he learned in spring was to keep free-choice prairie hay available to his pastured cows while pastures are lush.

“They only eat about three to five pounds of hay a day but I have been getting about a one pound increase in milk for every pound of hay they eat.”

University of Nebraska extension specialist, Terry Gompert, said he thinks this increase in milk is a combination of increased dry matter which improves digestion and an increase in carbohydrate from the warm-season prairie hay.

Warm-season grasses are normally much higher in carbohydrate than cool-season grasses.

Anibal Pordomingo said that such free choice hay supplementation during the spring and fall lush will more than double the gain on stocker cattle.

He said that, as Bruns found out, the daily hay consumption will be low but the results exceptional.

Bruns leaves a hay wagon in the lane to the milking parlor. He moves it frequently so it is near the gate of the paddock being grazed.

Another trick to increase spring milk production is enter the paddocks with the grass taller and more mature.

“This really helps cut down on the squirts. I was picking up traces of urea in the milk and this was coming from the new short grass being too high in protein,” Bruns said.

A short, fast-growing, legume-dense cool-season pasture can be as much as twice the protein required for good ruminant digestion.

Converting this excess nitrogen to urea and excreting it requires energy and this lowers milk production.

Milk production is maximized when the pasture is balanced in protein and carbohydrate. The best balanced grass is annual ryegrass and milk production from this grass is exceptional.

Bruns buys in all of his winter hay and owns no hay equipment.

Just for the fun of it he fed his cows with a team of horses borrowed from a neighbor last winter.

“It only took about 15 minutes longer and was a lot more fun.”

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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