MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Healthy cattle on summer pasture. That’s the scene that makes Alan Kozak happy. That, and some of the exciting new things he and his wife Sharon are doing with the high-quality milk from their 429 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 upcoming Cornucopia III production sale, where 150 cattle of all ages will be auctioned at the farm.
Under blue skies and sunshine, a late September visit was a thrill for this photographer – groups of grazing Jerseys were found throughout the farm, and it was a treat to watch a portion of the milking herd line up across the meadow, walking down from the compost bedded pack barn at the end of the day for milking, and then when leaving the farm, passing another group on the hillside grazing in the twilight after milking.
The little brown cows at Clover Patch earn their keep. The 5.3 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 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 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 90% 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.”
Buyers at the Clover Patch Cornucopia III production sale at the farm on Oct. 26 will be pleased to know that 100 of the 150 head 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 improvement the Pennsylvania native has achieved on the farm he and Sharon have rented for over 20 years, are noteworthy.
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 429 Clover Patch Jerseys average +93 GJPI (Genomic Jersey Production Index). The herd is number one in Ohio for GJPI and number four in the United States. In fact, half the herd is above 93, and the highest number in the herd is 192!
Alan attributes this to a breeding program that focused on “using the best bulls in the breed, over and over and over for 30 years.”
They genomic test all offspring and use 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.
He talks about how genomics have rapidly moved the top stock into a smaller sampling of the breed. By the time producers have the information, it changes. They 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 Kozaks have applied the same diligence to getting their herd 100% Johnes negative for over 10 years. The closed herd is the largest to do it in Ohio.
At calving, they 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 this is the product that works. It softens udders fast and much better than anything else we’ve tried — getting udders in great shape for lactation.
“We spray fresh udders consistently after each milking for the first 3 to 4 days. Udders are softer, milkers stay on better, and everything goes better,” he explains. “Quality udders and quality milk, that’s 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. This year, even 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 it’s hard to ignore what they see firsthand as the younger generation is keen to know where their food comes from. Alan tells the story of their son Brandon’s college soccer team having 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.”
Now, when the Kozaks put out the chocolate milk and dairy products, they find the students want to know it’s coming 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 consumer. The label they ship to is not in their local stores, so how do you retain their excitement for the milk 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 also on A2A2 milk. 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 has traveled a bit this year, they’ve visited large farms and small farms — 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, portions reprinted from Farmshine, October 18, 2019