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Worden loves his brown cows

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/16/2013 3:23 PM

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OELWEIN — Dennis Worden bought his first Brown Swiss when he was 12.

He got a loan to buy two open heifers from Earl Anderson, of Garner.

"When one of those turned out to be a non-breeder, we went back and bought two more," Worden said. "We still have animals in our herd that descend from those cows."

He grew up near Dows. His parents had one Brown Swiss cow and the rest were Holsteins.

He's shown cattle since he was 11. He started showing at the Iowa State Fair for FFA when he was 14, and he and his family now try to show every year. He first showed at the World Dairy Expo just after he got out of college.

Worden, 57, graduated from Iowa State University with a dairy science degree and married his wife, Joan, a year later.

Before settling on their Oelwein farm 18 years ago, the Wordens moved around northeast Iowa.

"We started in the late 1970s and went through the 1980s, which wasn't a good time," Worden said. "We lost a lot of equity in 2009 and had to sell some land that we just bought. Sometimes, I think we were too dumb to quit, but I've got cows in my blood and I can't get them out. It would be hard to imagine life without cows, especially the brown cows."

Worden and Joan's Onword Swiss herd is predominantly Brown Swiss although all six dairy breeds are represented in their tie-stall barn.

The Wordens' children are all involved in dairy. Noah works at farms in the Oelwein area. Jonna, an ISU dairy science graduate, and her husband, Lance Schutte, and their three children have a dairy farm near Monona. Jacob graduated from ISU in dairy science and works at home. Logan is an ISU student and Iowa Dairy Princess.

The Wordens milk 85 cows with 100 total head, 30 belong to Jacob.

"All the kids have their favorite breed," Worden said. "A couple have Ayrshires, they all had Jersey-share heifers, one has a Guernsey and there are a couple of Milking Shorthorns. When we came here the barn was full of Holsteins and there are now 12 to 15 left."

The main Onword Swiss cow family descends from a Brown Swiss that Worden bought at a Wisconsin farm sale when he was in college.

"Eighty-five percent of our Brown Swiss cows trace back to that cow family," Worden said.

Viola, named after Worden's grandmother, was a descendent of that Wisconsin cow. She produced 23 daughters.

Viola placed second at the World Dairy Expo in 1999, and had a record of 42,000 pounds of milk, 2,220 pounds fat and 200,000 pounds of milk lifetime.

Viola, who died at 16, is buried in the front yard. She calved when she was over 12 and then milked for a year. They flushed her a few more times during her final three years when she was retired.

"She had super type, milked a lot and had an attitude you couldn't help but love," Worden said. "She was just special. She was able to transmit good sound type and longevity."

In the Onword Swiss herd, 50 are members of Viola's family on the cow side. The Wordens also used sons, grandsons and great-grandsons that are in studs.

Two Viola daughters in the herd are over 12 years old. One is in the top 25 in the breed for lifetime protein production. Another daughter isn't far behind. Another daughter at 10 is over 200,000 pounds of milk.

Onword Swiss has done embryo transfer and some in vitro fertilization.

"We're mostly homebred, we don't buy a lot of cattle, said Worden.

The Wordens own 70 acres and rent another 125.

Worden was critically injured by a bull a few years ago. At the same time, Joan had a cerebral hemorrhage. This winter Joan was hit with bacterial meningitis, but has since recuperated.

"You roll with the punches and keep plugging along," Worden said. "We're still here."

This spring, Worden was honored with the Iowa Brown Swiss Distinguished Member Award. It's the third time he or his family have received the honor.

The Wordens sponsor a class winner at the Iowa State Fair and have shown at the Minnesota State Fair.

"We try to do a few things," Worden said. "Iowa has been good to me and my family. The Iowa Brown Swiss Association is like family. They are a good bunch of people."