Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Iowa is now home to VanEss Dairy

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:16 PM

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MADISON, Wis. —After relocating from Washington to Idaho and then from Idaho to Iowa, VanEss Dairy LLC is successfully milking 3,700 cows at Sanborn, Iowa.

The dairy consists of Harvey and Lisa and their sons Chad, Josh, Tyler, Jeremy and his wife, Patricia; Todd, and his wife, Stefanie; and four grandsons. The VanEss family hosted a virtual tour of their operation at the World Dairy Expo in Madison.

In 1994 Harvey and Lisa moved 375 cows and 400 heifers from Monroe, Wash., to Middleton Idaho. In 2007 with their sons wanting to be part of the business and development encroaching on their operation, they began looking for a new place to dairy. They looked at sites in South Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Idaho before deciding on Iowa.

In 2008 they moved 1,900 cows, 1,900 heifers as well as 800 cows that they purchased in Phoenix, Ariz., 1,440 miles to Iowa.

Community involvement is important to the VanEss family. They have hosted two Iowa dairy tours that attracted 1,200 to 1,400 people. Lisa serves on the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance board, and in 2008 the family received the Iowa Area Development Group Venture Award.

The VanEss operation consists of a cross-ventilated, sand-bedded freestall barn which spans 9.8 acres. The barn has evaporative cooling cells and 120 52-inch exhaust fans that pull air across the building. Cows are grouped in pens of 400. The liquid manure system holds 79 million gallons. The lagoon is pumped once a year, and all manure is injected.

They recently built a free-stall heifer barn which houses 650 heifers. They own a feedlot where they care for another 850 heifers, and the rest are custom raised.

A crew of six milks 450 cows per hour in a double-50 parallel parlor. They milk three times per day. Milkers follow strict protocols and receive frequent hands-on training.

The herd has a 28,291 pound rolling herd average with 3.9 percent fat, 3.07 percent protein and 180,000 somatic cell count. The Holstein herd is bred 100 percent AI.

There are 36 employees including family members. Harvey said they have very low employee turnover. When they moved from Idaho to Iowa, eight Hispanic families moved with them. Some employees have worked for the dairy for 16 years.

VanEss Dairy has worked with nutritionist Dennis Stokes of Snake River Enterprises, Boise, Idaho for 13 years.

"The dairy feeds well-balanced diets consisting of quality ingredients," Stokes said.

The dairy feeds a fresh cow ration up to 25 days in milk and a lactating ration until cows are dry.

"We do not believe in pen moves," Harvey said.

The VanEss family raises corn silage on the 255 acres that they own and contract 2,300 acres of corn silage from neighbors.

They focus on quality forage putting up 45,000 tons of corn silage in two pits each year, said Chad who is charge of chopping. They use Pioneer 11CFT innoculant and are pleased with the result. They tried shredlage this year and liked the outcome.

They feed a total mixed ration which is greater than 55 percent forage consisting of corn silage, alfalfa hay, straw and nonforage fiber sources.

Chad and an employee handle feeding using two vertical mixer wagons. They focus on consistency, feeding at the same time and in the same order every day.

VanEss Dairy uses team management. Stokes visits every six to eight weeks, and in between he and Jeremy, who is herd manager, confer weekly.

When asked why they moved to Iowa, Harvey said a lot of prayer went into the decision.

"I'm a Christian and in the other places it seemed that the doors just kept slamming shut while they opened here," Harvey said. "I believe this is where God led us. It was a good move, but I won't say it was easy."