DONAHUE, Iowa – John Maxwell has a lofty goal: to make his Cinnamon Ridge Dairy cows the top-producing Jersey herd in the United States.
This Scott County dairyman from Donahue, Iowa is not far from the mark. The American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) recently had 191 Maxwell cows each averaging 25,710 pounds of milk for 2017. That was accompanied by 1,220 pounds of butterfat, and 985 pounds of protein, each.
Those numbers placed his herd first in the United States for protein over all Jersey herd sizes. They also made the herd second overall for milk and seventh overall for fat.
Among herds of 150 to 299 cows, Cinnamon Ridge ranked first for milk, first for protein and second for fat.
“Our goal is to be the No. 1 herd for production for Jersey dairy cattle,” Maxwell said. “We are on our way.”
Maxwell has reasoning behind his goal of being the top Jersey herd. One is for name recognition which may boost sales of his surplus Jerseys to other farms. Another is the name recognition which may help attract visitors for the farm’s tours.
Cinnamon Ridge uses genomic testing on all its calves. Just five calves per month are kept, although approximately 20 to 25 are born each month.
Maxwell said some 10,000 people a year tramp through the barn to see his brother and partner Edwin Maxwell make cheese and to see a quartet of Lely A4 robotic milkers in action.
About 6,000 of those guests opt to dine at the farm’s restaurant, where the food is served family style. Guests also shop at the farm’s Country Cupboard store, where Cinnamon Ridge’s own eggs, cheese, bacon, beef and baked goods are sold.
Maxwell and Edwin grew up on a nearby farm where their parents milked Holsteins and Jerseys. Maxwell remembers the decision to put the cows on test in 1977. Forty-one years ago, the cows, milked with Surge buckets, carried a rolling herd average of 7,800 pounds of milk.
In 1988, he set out to buy a farm of his own. He said seven banks turned him down for a loan to buy land at $800 an acre. The eighth lender decided to chance it.
“I had 20 cows to my name,” Maxwell said. “I had to scrounge through drawers to get $1,000 for the down payment on 80 acres.”
Maxwell is the fifth generation to milk Jerseys. Maxwells have lived in the county since 1848.
An important event in Maxwell’s life took place in 1997. He was chosen to receive the National Outstanding Farmer Award.
A letter congratulating Maxwell and signed by then-President Bill Clinton has a prominent place in a display case in the dairy center.
“It was a big day. It changed my world,” Maxwell said.
As a result of the recognition the award brought, Deere and Company asked him to host farm tours. Deere’s international headquarters at East Moline, Ill., sits not far across the Mississippi River from the Maxwell’s farm. Many people from outside the United States visit the Deere and Company’s headquarters, and the company wanted to enhance their experience with a farm tour.
The Maxwells built their freestall barn and dairy center in 2012 and milked 80 cows in it at first. Then, the heifers began to calve.
The facility has two robotic milkers on each side and room for 110 cows on each side. A robot sweeps feed up to the cows and there are two automatic cow brushes.
Sand bedding, tunnel ventilation, an insulated ceiling and a misting system keep the cows comfortable no matter what the weather.
“It never gets below freezing in here and it never gets above 80 degrees,” Maxwell said.
There is an event center upstairs with tables and chairs. Windows on both sides of the room afford views of the cows.
When the barn went into use, the cows carried a rolling herd average of 18,000 pounds.
“Everybody wants to know: What’s the magic bullet?” Maxwell said of his 25,000-pound herd average. “How do you get to be No. 2 in the nation for milk, No. 1 for protein and No. 7 for fat, over all herds? It’s the little things. All of the little things add up.”
Maxwell’s list of little things includes making sure the feed is composed of quality ingredients. Getting hooves trimmed on time is important, too, as is keeping feed where the cows can reach it.
Keeping fresh sand in the stalls helps as does cleaning waterers once a week. Making sure the barn’s air is fresh pays off, too.
The hardest part of providing all those things is doing it right every day, he said.
“Sometimes you’ve got things in the mix that don’t make it easy,” Maxwell said.
Another key is buying cattle from good cow families and then developing more. It helps to realize the optimal number of cows for the barn.
Maxwell said when he milked 270 cows, the farm shipped 30,000 pounds of milk every other day. He had two cows making more than 100 pounds a day.
Then he sold 30 cows, getting $2,000 each for them. It was not even a week until the farm was once again shipping 30,000 pounds every other day.
“And then we had more than 20 cows that were making over 100 pounds,” Maxwell said.
Cinnamon Ridge cows, in the free-flow movement system, average 3.3 visits to the robots every 24 hours. Some choose to be milked six times a day; others getting close to dry-off visit once every other day.
Overall Maxwell said he is pleased with the robots. They helped make a place in the business for one of his daughters. After Amy graduated from Iowa State University, she became the herd manager.
“She loves cows and she loves computers,” Maxwell said. “So, it was a natural fit.”
The Jerseys’ high production is giving Maxwell and his wife, Joan, a good milk price of more than $7 over the base.
Cinnamon Ridges’ milk is sold to Brewster Cheese of Stockton, Ill. where it is made into Swiss cheese.
Maxwell continues to pursue some of his goals. For instance, his herd is still ranked No. 2 for milk.
How long might it be until his cows pull into first place?
“Tell me what the weather will be and how the feed will be and I can answer that,” Maxwell said.