MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Healthy cattle on summer pasture. That’s the scene that makes Alan Kozak happy. That, and some of the exciting things he and his wife Sharon are doing with the high-quality milk from their 486 Jersey cows at Clover Patch Dairy here in Holmes County, Ohio.
Alan credits Sharon as the “calf whisperer,” and her talents with the youngstock have blessed them with plenty of heifers for their October 24, 2020 Cornucopia IV production sale, where 225 registered Jerseys of all ages — all genomic and A2 tested — will be auctioned at the farm.
Buyers will be pleased to know that over 75% of the animals selected for sale are confirmed A2A2.
To say Alan loves Jersey genetics is an understatement. His passion for the breed is obvious, and the breed improvements the Pennsylvania native has achieved are noteworthy on the farm he and Sharon have rented for over 20 years.
His passion for dairy began while attending Penn State and being part of the judging team that qualified for international competition in Scotland. From there, he became involved with the Jersey Association while he and Sharon began to set roots in northeast Ohio, where they’ve raised their two children Courtney and Brandon, and raised and milked countless little brown cows over the years.
Today, the 486 Clover Patch Jerseys average +51 GJPI (Jersey Production Index). The herd is number one in Ohio and number two in the nation for GJPI with half the herd above 52, and the highest number at 133!
In fact, the Clover Patch Jerseys are second only to Trans Ova Genetics in terms of their national performance index — something the Kozaks accomplished in their adult and springing herd without a single embryo transplant, although they did more recently flush and IVF two top cows with new calves on the ground.
Alan attributes the Clover Patch herd’s achievement to a consistent breeding program that has focused on “using the best bulls in the breed, over and over and over for 30 years.”
The Kozaks genomic test all offspring, and Alan uses the highest cheese merit bulls with an eye for traits that produce cows that are easy keepers, cows that last and have milkable udders. They’ve also incorporated the A2A2.
Alan observes how genomics have rapidly moved the top stock into a smaller sampling of the breed. By the time producers have the information, it changes, he says. Clover Patch had the highest bull one test, and then the next it was another of their bulls that put him in second. Despite the rollercoaster, Alan uses genomics as a tool in developing lines and to break down traits.
The little brown cows at Clover Patch earn their keep. The 5.2 butterfat and 3.8 protein milk they produce has created opportunities, along with complexities.
The Kozaks keep two milk tanks for their split herd. One is designated for the A2A2 milk from over 70% of the herd that is segregated from the milk from the rest of the herd in the other tank. When they first started splitting the herd, they also segregated feed so that the A2A2 milk would qualify for the A2A2 non-GMO grass-fed label at Snowville Creamery, Pomeroy, Ohio. That’s over a two-hour haul for a premium label that requires all feed to be zero GMO.
The milk from the sizeable herd is balanced at a nearby cheese plant, where the butterfat and protein are prized.
Today, they are switching the whole herd to non-GMO feed, and their heifer crop — at over 75% A2A2 — is moving them closer to total A2A2.
“Not having to segregate would certainly be easier,” says Alan. “We juggle it now, sending the other milk when a load is needed for the cheese plant. But it’s hard to let go of heifers my wife has raised, and that have good genetics, if they aren’t A2A2.”
The Kozaks have applied the same diligence to getting their herd 100% Johnes negative. The closed herd is 100% Johnes negative for over 10 years and the largest in Ohio to accomplish that.
Milkability is important to Alan in his Jerseys. He pays attention to udder quality in his genetics and his management practices.
At calving, the Kozaks prioritize a good start for cow and calf. “Getting colostrum into the calves and Udder Comfort onto the udders are post-calving priorities here,” says Alan. “We use Udder Comfort here because it’s the product that works. It softens udders fast and much better than anything else we’ve tried — getting udders in great shape, fast, for a quality lactation.
“We spray fresh udders consistently after each milking for the first 3 to 4 days. With Udder Comfort, udders are softer, milkers stay on better, and milkout is more complete. Everything just goes better,” he explains. “Quality udders and quality milk are what I like to see.”
As for feeding them? Grass has always been the mainstay of the diet here for all classes of livestock, including round bales and ag bags filled with native grass mixes for winter. All of the corn silage, grains and concentrates are grown and sourced as non-GMO.
The Kozaks have experimented a bit having their own cheese label made and looking for ways to test the waters of direct marketing to consumers. They made it available for sale as an FFA fundraiser.
“People like the idea of knowing the farmer, of local products and good cheese,” says Alan, admitting there are a lot of details and factors to consider in processing. Looking in that direction brings with it other complexities to add to their days operating the dairy farm.
But the younger generation is keen to know where their food comes from, and Alan tells a story from when their son Brandon was in college. The soccer team had an outing on the farm.
“That was a day I think Brandon realized what is special about the farm he was raised on,” says Alan. “Most of his college teammates had never stepped foot on a farm. We had a great day, and Brandon was like a hero for something he has lived every day. Some of the kids were so appreciative to have the opportunity to really see cows for the first time.”
Today, their son Brandon is a nurse at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and daughter Courtney a CPA with Price Waterhouse.
From their generation, Alan and Sharon have found that visiting youth want to know the milk and dairy products they put out come from their farm, their cows. While their interest is exciting, “it’s also difficult to address because there is not a straight line from the farm to the consumer,” Alan relates, explaining that the label they ship to is not in their local stores, “so how do you retain their excitement for the milk and dairy products they have available to them?”
As the dairy industry segments between commodity consolidation and special labels for niche marketing, Alan sees differentiation as a path for farms like his.
The Kozaks have put so much effort into developing a high component, high genetics, largely grass-fed herd with a focus on A2A2 milk and non-GMO feed. That effort is not valued when simply added to the commodity pool.
When the Kozaks saw an opportunity to market a portion of their milk to the Snowville Creamery A2A2 non-GMO, grass-fed label, they went to their former cooperative with the idea, but were told it would be “disruptive” to the market.
Today, they market their milk with NFO. “NFO let us do it, and we have their blessing. They have been really good that way,” Alan says.
The couple visits other farms large and small in other regions — farms that set the bar for technology, growth and progress — and farms scaling back in size to make their own dairy products.
“We see the same challenges everywhere we go. Many of us are boxed in by location,” says Alan, noting the big growth in the industry is happening elsewhere in the West.
“We are seeing herds sell out, or producers thinking that way,” he observes, describing such farms where they have invested in technology to grow for the future but reached a point where they can’t get bigger – or don’t want to.
While 400 milk cows might be a large farm in his county, it’s not a large farm in the nationally consolidating dairy industry.
“We’ll never compete with the big guys where we are here, and we don’t have the desire to get that big. We like that we manage our cows. We know how they are cared for. We see them every day. Sharon does such a phenomenal job with the calves. We value them,” Alan states, adding that their team of employees are crucial to the operation, and as his phone buzzed on and off through the interview, it was clear communication is key.
“We had to find a niche. That’s how we’ll stay competitive.”
— By Sherry Bunting