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Ocheda Dairy hosts farm tour

Rita Vander Kooi (center) talks about Ocheda Dairy during a tour of the farm Wednesday night south of Worthington. The farm tour was part of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council's R.E.A.L. Story campaign. (JULIE BUNTJER/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON -- Ocheda Dairy south of Worthington opened its doors to the public Wednesday night as a participant in the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council's Responsible, Ethical Agriculture for Life (R.E.A.L.) campaign.

The invitation-only event drew community leaders, civic group members and township officials for an in-depth tour of the 1,350-cow-capacity dairy, owned by the Dave and Joe Vander Kooi families.

In the coming days, the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council will host four more events at farms across the state in hopes of spreading the positive message of agriculture.

Dairies make up approximately 3,000 of the state's 81,000 farms; and Ocheda Dairy is one of the largest dairies in Nobles County.

On Wednesday night, Joe, his wife Rita, and dad, Dave, gave tours of the facility and talked about the work that goes into producing milk. Milk produced on the farm is sold to Associated Milk Producers, Inc., of Sanborn, Iowa, where it is processed into cheese.

The dairy completed its latest expansion about a year ago, adding onto a five-year-old cross-ventilated barn that uses cool-cell technology to keep the inside temperature of the barn at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside air temperature.

That barn houses more than 1,000 cows, including heifers that are nearly ready to freshen and baby calves until they are old enough to be moved off-site.

The oldest of the barns, built in 2001, is a naturally-ventilated freestall barn that holds 500 cows. Three rows of fans line the ceiling of the barn to improve air flow, and a sprinkler system is set to operate periodically to help cool the cows.

While the Vander Koois do what they can to improve cow comfort, Ocheda Dairy also has an efficient recycling system in place.

The sand that is used for bedding is hauled out of the barns daily and put through a flume to separate out the solids, leaving the sand reclaimed. Once the sand is dry, it is reused again as bedding.

"Bacteria grows less in sand," Rita said, adding that as a bedding option, it's comfortable for the cows.

Being able to recycle the bedding offers great cost-savings, as does recycling the water.

Dave Vander Kooi said the water used by the dairy is recycled two to three times. From the well, the water is used as a coolant for the milk before it gets piped into the bulk tank, then it goes into the watering system for the cows. As the water gets refreshed for the cows, the remaining water is flushed to the north barn to operate the cool-cell technology.

Between the two barns is a double-20 parallel parlor that allows for 40 cows to be milked at one time. Cows are milked three times a day -- at 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., with one hour of clean-up time in between each shift.

With 1,100 cows currently producing milk -- at up to 10 gallons of milk per cow per day -- the two 6,000-gallon bulk tanks on site are filled from one day's milking. The contents of each tank will fill a bulk milk truck.

Since Ocheda Dairy keeps all of its heifer calves to raise as replacements for the dairy cow herd, they began using gender-select semen about five years ago on their heifers. By using the gender-select semen, they have a 90 percent chance of getting a heifer calf.

After the calves are born, they are taken to a series of farms to be fed to breeding weight.

Ocheda Dairy has 13 employees, who work with a four-person management team. Combined, the farm has an annual payroll of nearly $500,000, Dave said, adding that the total farm operation's budget is $5 to $6 million a year.

While the Vander Koois feed all of the corn, soybeans and alfalfa they raise to their cattle, they also have to buy additional feedstuffs. On Monday, five semi-loads of commodities arrived at the farm, including cottonseed, distiller's grains and hay, said Dave. Those commodities are mixed with corn silage, haylage and soybean meal to create a total mixed ration.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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