This year’s US National Holstein Convention will be held in Traverse City, MI. Michigan has a rich history in agriculture and its wide variety of commodity crops, fruits, vegetables and animals make it #2 in the US for agricultural diversity. Elsie, MI, is located about 3 hours south of Traverse City, but is worth the drive for dairy enthusiasts since it is home to Green Meadow Farms – one of the largest registered Holstein herds in one location in the country.
History of Green Meadow
Green Meadow was established by Merle Green in 1922 when he purchased his first farm. However, in 1918 Merle bought his first registered Holstein and sold her milk door-to-door after school. Green Meadow had modest beginnings and Merle increased his cow numbers steadily. In 1943 Green Meadow held their first herd dispersal of 325 registered Holsteins, which was the largest sale in the history of the breed at that time. Only two years later, they had another sale, this time keeping all of the open heifers. One heifer that stayed behind was Green-Meadow Lily Pabst GP-84 GMD. She would go on to make a world record of 42,805lbs of milk in 1951, a record she held for more than 20 years.
Merle’s sons, Duane and Velmar, started their partnership of Green Meadow in the 1950’s when 250 cows were being milked in a number of tie-stall facilities. In 1960 the new milking parlor was built with loose housing for 500 cows, and a year later 500 more cows were added. The herd continued to grow steadily through the 1980’s and surplus heifers were sold across the US and to several foreign countries during that time. Extensive showing was done from 1946-1970 and many Green Meadow cattle have been shown at both state and national shows. In fact, Green Meadow still holds the record for being the longest consecutive exhibitor at the Michigan State Fair which they continue to attend.
Continued expansion saw the construction of the new milking facility in the early 2000’s and a strong partnership with Michigan State University has seen the development of other new innovative projects as well. In 2008 Velmar, who was recognized by World Dairy Expo as the Dairyman of the Year in 2013, along with his wife Margaret, their son Craig and his wife Darcy, became the sole owners of Green Meadow Farms, beginning the 3rd generation of Green’s to farm on the homestead.
A Family Operation
Although day-to-day operations are handled by Craig and Darcy, whose daughter Corbie (3) loves spending time outside as well, Velmar and Margaret are still actively involved in the farming activities. Additionally, a staff of 80 employees is also key at Green Meadow, where they raise all of their own young stock and do all the field and crop work on their 8000 acres.
The milking herd of 3,900 cows is mainly registered Holstein, but there are also 9 Brown Swiss and 2 Ayrshires. Cows are milked between 2 herringbone parlors, a double 20 and a double 30, with a rolling herd average of 27,000 lbs and a BAA% of 101. The most recent classification brought the Greens 11 new Excellent cows and 4 new 2E cows, bringing the herd classification to 24 EX, 367 VG and 1,514 GP. A cow that has made a huge impact on the farm is Green-Meadow Kasie-ET, an EX Outside daughter with 3 generations of VG & EX dams behind her. Kasie has 50 registered daughters, 1 EX and 15 VG, and over 200 animals can be traced back to her.
Breeding goals at Green Meadow include selecting for good udders and feet and legs, with longevity traits. They use high type sires on about 10% of the herd and have recently started using female sexed genomic bulls on that 10%, while using male sexed beef bulls on the low end of the herd once they know they have enough replacements. “Our new breeding program is a work in progress,” says Darcy. In addition to the use of genomics as a management tool, the Greens were also one of the first to adopt the DairyComp 305 program over 30 years ago. They also utilize a double ov-synch program on first service matings and an EZ feed system to manage the feeding.
Along with most dairy farmers in the United States, the Greens have been feeling the pressure of low milk prices. “Michigan has historically been a great place to milk cows,” says Darcy, “however since 2014 production has grown so much with no increases to capacity, so millions of pounds of milk are being shipped out of state at a large discount by the milk co-ops. We are just trying to survive until processing catches up in the state.”
The slogan at Green Meadow Farms – “Where the latch string is always out” means that you are always welcome at the farm. The Greens regularly welcome many groups, both school and non-school, to learn what happens on a working dairy by way of their milking observation area and facility tours.
Their proximity to Michigan State University (MSU), a half an hour away, has also led to some innovative partnerships, one of which is the MSU Training Center for Dairy Professionals. Completed in 2005, the one-of-a-kind teaching center was the brainchild of the MSU Vet school. They wanted to have a place where vet students could receive specialized hands-on training in caring for dairy animals. The center is not limited to vet students, it is also used by industry professionals and other college students studying in the dairy field. A methane digester was added to the farm in 2006, which was the result of an MSU project with the Department of Biosystems and Engineering. The digester, capable of producing 800 Kwh of power, is leased to Martin Energy Group.
Building a Lasting Legacy
While things might not be particularly easy for the dairy industry in Michigan and the rest of the US, the Greens say that one of the most satisfying things about dairy farming is being able to do what they love on a regular basis. “These days you feel like you are busting your butt chasing the non-existent dollar to try and make ends meet, but you still go to bed knowing that there is nothing in this world you would rather be doing,” says Darcy. “Then the next morning you get up and tackle whatever life throws at you! It’s tiring but when you love it, it’s worth it.” With hopes to make improvements on the farm and keep up with the latest technology, the Greens strive to make the farm the best it can be so that when the time comes, they’ll be able to provide their daughter with the tools and facilities she needs to continue the family legacy.