Featured Farmer Profile Stephanie Nussbaum, Nussbaum Dairy

Posted: 5/28/2014


Just like any other family-run business, bringing in the next generation of family members to a farming operation requires communication and planning.  There is no one-size-fits-all secret to success; a transition plan has to be specific to meet the needs of each farm and each family.  For the Nussbaum family of Garretson, planning ahead meant looking not only to a new generation of family members, but also a new generation of technologies.

Brad and Monica Nussbaum each grew up on dairy farms, and started their own crop and dairy farm in 1981.  They raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa and oats on about 1,800 acres, have 97 cows in their dairy herd and also raise 40 head of Angus Beef cow/calf pairs. 

Their daughters, Brittany and Stephanie, were both very involved in the family dairy from a young age.  And when both showed interest in staying on the farm, they began planning ahead for what the Nussbaum Dairy of the future would look like.  

“When we started thinking about it, we had to consider that our current barns were old and labor intensive, and that our traditional milking parlor was also in need of improvement,” said Stephanie. 

Years of planning and construction paid off when the first cows entered the new, state-of-the-art robot barn and freestall barn earlier this year.

The new barn allows the Nussbaums to milk, feed, and house the cows all under one climate-controlled roof.  It includes  a number of features designed specifically to keep cows comfortable and healthy even in the most challenging South Dakota weather conditions.  Special panels on the walls are designed to let light in, yet reflect heat-producing ultraviolet rays in the summer.  Curtains and fans are used to automatically adjust the temperature in the barn, and each cow rests on a waterbed in her own individual free-stall.

Milking is done by two Lely Astronaut robotic milkers, which can each easily manage milking for 60 cows.  Cows can visit the milking robot at any time of day or night whenever they choose.  On average, each cow is milked about 3.2 times per day.  

“Technical advancements have given the smaller family farm, like us, more free time to spend together as well as provide the tools to make our cows produce to their genetic potential, “ said Brad.

The robotic milkers are just the beginning.  An automatic feed pusher, the Lely Juno robot, keeps a constant supply of feed to the cows and automatic brushes in each pen keep the cows clean and well-groomed.  Each cow also wears a collar with sensors that help the family manage the cow’s health and breeding cycles more effectively.  If a cow is more or less active than usual, a computer alert is sent and the Nussbaums can check on the cow.

The new barn is also designed for environmental sustainability.  The barn has a slatted floor that allows manure to drop to a 12-foot deep concrete pit underneath.  The manure is used as fertilizer for the fields where the Nussbaums grow crops to feed the cows.   How much fertilizer is applied in which areas of their fields is also carefully controlled to get the most value from the fertilizer and minimize losses to the environment.  

Moving to robotic milkers and other technologies also changes the way the Nussbaums manage the dairy and workload.

Work on the farm is now more management oriented than labor intensive, said Brittany.  A challenge for the family is adapting to the speed of information and changing management styles to adapt to it. 

“We get a lot of information from the robots about our cows’ health and milk quality, now we have to develop plans on how to manage it and react to it,” she said.  “We spent years getting our herd to where we are today and love seeing the cows flourish in our new facility.”

Sharing their story and information about modern dairy production is also important to the family.  They are all active with local, county and dairy associations and share information about their farm whenever possible. 

“We know our neighbors beyond a wave and a smile, and we open our doors for those that want to learn more about their food” said Monica.

The Nussbaums will be hosting an open house at their new barn on Saturday, July 12.  From 10am to 1pm, come visit the farm to see robotic milkers in action, enjoy a free lunch and bring the children for fun kids’ activities.  Learn more on the South Dakota Farm Families Facebook page.


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