David and Susan Day strive to breed high-quality dairy cattle at Aragorn Farms
BOLIVAR, MO. – For the Days, dairy cattle are a part of the family business, and the family.
David and Susan Day operate a dairy in Polk County Mo., where they are milking around registered 30 Holsteins, Jerseys, Ayrshires and Milking Shorthorn.
“We draw the line at Brown Swiss,” Susan said with a laugh.
“I have too many interests I can’t keep them under control,” David added. “It gives me more to research and study.”
David grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and met Susan, a North Carolina native, in Minnesota while both worked for Cargill. David bought a farm in northwest Wisconsin, but he wanted a change of scenery.
“It’s a beautiful area,” David recalled. “Beautiful summers, horrific winters. After we got married, we relocated to Missouri.”
The couple moved to Missouri in 2009 and purchased a 127-acre dairy farm near Bolivar.
“I like cows, and I am passionate about genetics,” David, whose grandfather Roger Day and father Curtis Day began raising registered Holsteins in 1952, said. “The longer we’ve been doing it on our own, the more I have gotten into forages.”
The Holstein herd, which is about 50 head of varying ages, can be traced back to a single female, except for three animals. The cow, Bendy-Brook Odyssey Favorite, is a cow David showed while in 4-H.
“In some cases, I have multiple crossed that go back to that cow,” David said, referring to the Excellent 92-point dam. “When I was a kid, she did well for me at the junior shows, but it’s her ability to transmit. She had 17 or 18 daughters that appraised Excellent, one of which was grand at the World Dairy Expo in 2001.”
That daughter, Tri-Day Ashlyn-ET EX-96, is considered one of the legendary cows in the Holstein breed, and has an ever-growing number of offspring achieving Excellent and Very Good classifications.
“I’ve bought into some other families, but they weren’t as good, and they ended up leaving,” David said.
Cows are classified annually at Aragorn Farms, with the most recent earning the farm three new Excellent scores.
At this time, a home-raised bull is being utilized for natural cover on the Holstein side of the breeding program.
“We have used him a lot in the last year,” David explained. “That’s A-typical for us because we have mostly AI’ed. We have done some IVF, but we haven’t done a conventional flush in four or five years. With IFV, you can choose the sex of the offspring, and when you only get a handful, it’s nice to pick.”
David and Susan added they avoid mating their current bull with closely related females, which are in tern bred via AI. Their colored breeds are also are bred through AI.
“They get bulls from the 1970s, up through five different bull studs. I have way too many semen tanks around; it’s an addiction,” he said with a laugh.
While the main operation is focused on Holsteins, the Days are selective with their colored breeds’ genetics as well. They have imported semen from England for their Milking Shorthorns and Ayrshires.
“The Shorthorns have a pretty broad genetic expansion program. If I had a Holstein, I couldn’t get bred, a lot of times, they would settle with a Shorthorn. We just kept those calves and went from there. With the Jerseys, we were adding more cows at the time and wanted something that was a little more heat tolerant. With the Ayrshires, my dad had them when I was a kid, and I always followed it, so I decided to take the plunge.”
The Days have implemented a rotational grazing system on their farm, moving cattle when forages are ready.
“We have tried to get our pastures up as economically as we can, and we keep our legumes up,” David said. “We might graze a (forages) little more mature than others, but we have found what works best for us. We try to keep the cows on pasture as much as we can. The heifers and dry cows are out pretty much all the time. Up north, there was only a four-month season they could be outside.”
While primary pasture-based, animals at Aragorn Farm do receive grain. Susan, formulation and ration manager for ByoZymein St. Joseph, Mo., creates a ration for the herd, which varies with commodity prices.
“Right now, it has quite a bit of soybean hulls because it matches well with the spring grass,” she said. “We only feed about 5 pounds of grain, per head, per day in the summer.”
The Days plant corn for silage, and annual ryegrass is fed in the form of baleage. They have cut their milking herd back a little over the last year, in part to allow them to be forage self-sufficient. Susan added with corn prices soaring, grass is the best option for their herd.
“We may never have a prize-winning cow on a 305-day milk production, but we can pay our bills,” she said.
The Days irrigate their forages, a practice that is rather uncommon in the Ozarks.
“We have incredible water in Missouri, it’s just badly distributed,” David said, adding he hopes to incorporate about 60 acres of irrigated land. “A lot of people don’t look at pastures as a crop. I’ve also always liked having cows on grass because I think the closer you get things to a natural state, the better they do.”
He and Susan added they feel the overall health of their animals is better if they can keep them grazing.
David and Susan have bred some females to a Red Poll bull to slowly build a cow/calf operation with females born from that cross, and a small flock of crossbred haired, which helps control weed and grass growth in certain areas of the farm.
David and Susan are the parents of 9-year-old twins Lucy and Daniel. Both enjoy life on the farm, and are beginning to show cattle, following in David’s footsteps.
In the future, the Days are looking to moving toward a “seasonal” milking program, moving primarily to September calves.
“If we do that, then they are going to be dry in July and August when it’s miserable,” David said. “I don’t want to milk them, and they don’t want to be milked. Frankly, the kids are getting older, and it would be nice to take a real vacation. It’s also easier to get someone to check on a herd of dry cows than it is to get someone to milk.”
David and Susan recently attended a cheese-making school have not ruled out creating a line of cheeses.
“Susan has now lost part of the living room to a freezer full of cheese that we are aging,” David said with a laugh.
“We haven’t tried the hard cheese yet because it’s still aging, but we did make a soft cheese that you can actually put on the grill and fry,” Susan added. “We aren’t there yet, but we have made some really good cheese curds. Right now, we’re just doing it for our own interest, and Lucy eats a lot of cheese.”
While things may change for the Day family and Aragorn Farm, David hopes to continue to strive for high-quality genetics and become more self-sufficient.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but we’ll figure it out,” David said. “With the dairy industry, you are going to have to go big or go niche, and milking 10,000 cows does not interest me. The niche thing, to me, if you bring your processing back local, you keep that money in your rural communities.”