On O’Reilly Shamrock Farm, a family dairy farm near Goodhue, Minnesota, pasture and comfort form the basis for excellence in cow care. Steve operates the Holstein dairy farm with his sons, Zach and Ben.
Including dry cows, the herd tallies up to 270, and they have 250-260 head of newborn calves to springing heifers. They have a small number of crosses, but they’ve returned to milking primarily Holsteins for the production levels. Zach focuses on the cows, leading the milking operation, with twice-a-day milking. Ben concentrates on the youngstock, and Steve’s work spreads more broadly across the operation, and he handles more fieldwork than in the past.
The O’Reilly bovine ladies receive a forage-based diet and time on summer pasture. “All the heifers more than six months old get most of their feed from the pasture. The cows get 35 to 40 percent of their feed off pasture in the summer. The heifers get about 80 percent of their diet off pasture in the summer. If the pasture gets short or dry, then we have to supplement,” Steve explains.
When it comes to cow care, Steve says, they mainly focus on keeping the cows comfortable first, and keeping them clean and dry is a given. Shamrock Farm also belongs to the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which helps them maintain care and quality, too. Additionally, they use Crystal Creek products if concerns arise, such as pneumonia or scours in calves. It’s good to have professionals to assist you with health concerns in cows or calves, Steve emphasizes. For pregnancy checks and routine concerns, they use their local veterinarian.
O’Reilly sees benefits from the forage nutrition for the cows. “There’s a little higher butterfat, and you don’t push them quite so hard that way. It seems like better health with higher forage content,” Steve says. Certified organic milk producers, the O’Reilly farm is also a CROPP co-op operation, the Organic Valley brand’s farm cooperative.
The farm has pasture land of 250 acres. For crops, they raise hay, corn, and a small grain mix of oats, barley and peas. They seed it down to hay underneath, so the next year it’s hay. “One year corn, hay two-three years is the rotation,” he says. They typically raise 330 acres of hay, 130 acres of small grains and 180 acres of corn.
National Farmers serves as the milk handler for CROPP farms in Minnesota, and Roger Nelson is the O’Reillys’ dairy field representative. “He helps mainly on quality. If there’s a quality issue, or if we get a high count, he calls. He’s very good,” Steve says.
“I always enjoy working with the O’Reilly farm on anything that comes up, but it is rare that even a slight quality issue happens,” Nelson says. “But if I notice a slight-moderate change, I call Ben or Zach ASAP. They are very good at getting back to me and telling me what, if anything, that they found. Our goal is to find the problem before it gets worse, which is everyone’s goal. Because of the premiums Organic Valley pays at present, it can add a fair amount to one’s milk check.”
The family milks in a double-16 herringbone parlor, meaning they milk 32 cows at a time. That also means it takes three people to milk at capacity, and most of the time, they’re able to have three people working at milking time. With three working, it takes two to two and a half hours. One full-time employee and some high school kids help on the farm part of the year, mostly with milking.
Steve and his wife, Beverly, raised Zach and Ben on the operation, and Zach became part of the farm full-time after he graduated from high school in 1994. Ben graduated in 2003, and has been there since, as well.
Beverly used to work on the farm much more, before she and Steve’s extended family grew to include 23 grandchildren. Two grandsons help, too. Baxter and Maddox, Zach’s sons, help milk a fair amount, Steve says, but they help bale hay, do the feed cart and other outside chores more. Through the summer, Baxter and Maddox are around the farm a bigger share of the time, but during the school year, they’re involved in sports.
“It was always one of my goals to make it financially strong enough that if my kids wanted to stay [on the farm] they could. Organics has really helped in that,” Steve says. The consistent pay price helped Beverly and Steve make room for the next generation, he says. The price stability is probably one of the main things that drew him into organics, Steve says. And that the methods are environmentally friendly, he adds.
During the last 25 years, organic production has made a huge difference financially, and knowing that you’ve been taking care of the environment at the same time, is gratifying, Steve says. Also, being successful raising families and experiencing the farm supporting the family with no off-farm job, these are facts that matter to Steve and Beverly.
In 1973, he and his brother, Dave, started farming together and farmed organically, although there wasn’t a market for organic milk then, and they sold it on the conventional market. Years later, their farm was the first milk officially picked up by Organic Valley/CROPP in Minnesota. That was the first time Organic Valley sought milk outside of Wisconsin. Much credit goes to the trucking company owned and operated by Rich Kahn. His efforts were instrumental in establishing Organic Valley routes in the area. He received an award related to those efforts at Organic Valley’s recent annual meeting, as well.
Steve and Dave farmed together until 2009, when three of Dave’s sons were farming with them, and they split from one operation to three. The family established two more separate dairy farms. Casey milks by himself, and Chris and Tony have a dairy together. All three farms produce organic milk.
“I also like their work ethic,” Nelson says. “It is go, go, go and get it done. And be sure it is done correctly. I don’t see them doing anything half way. Like my dad always used to say, if you are not going to do it right, don’t do it at all. That is the way I see the O’Reillys – all of the O’Reilly families, for that matter. They try to do it right the first time and they do the best job they can.”
Appreciation breeds the O’Reilly work ethic and quality. “I like cattle and it looks to me like a good way to make a living. I like to be outdoors. It’s a little something different every day,” Steve says.
Zach and his wife, Dorothy, have seven children. Ben and his wife, Brittany, have six kids, sixth grade and younger.