Farm Horizons, Oct. 2017

Success in small farming?

By Starrla Cray

On their small dairy farm near Chaska, Mike and Donna Tellers have achieved a rolling herd average of more than 28,000 pounds of milk and 1,000 pounds of fat without the use of rBST.

They shared their tips for success during a tour of their farm July 6, organized by the University of Minnesota Extension.

“It’s a good, clean, healthy herd of cows,” commented Jim Salfer, U of M Extension dairy specialist.

Mike began farming with his dad and brother in 1971. Little by little, he’s been making changes that have contributed to high production.

In 1989, he started using the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) records to help make management decisions. Part of that included analyzing heifer characteristics, and choosing ones with good feet/legs, easy calving, and square udders with shorter teats.


The next step was to focus on feed quality. In 1991, Mike started working with Vern Oraskovich from the U of M Extension. Instead of cutting alfalfa at 35 days in full bloom, he cut at 28 days.

“Timing is everything,” he noted. “Don’t look up and don’t listen to the radio. Cut it.”

Air flow was next on the list of improvements. Mike added tunnel ventilation with three fans in 1995. (A fourth fan was added in spring 2017.)

In 1998, the original stanchions were removed, in favor of a 47-cow tie stall barn.


The Tellers implemented a total mixed ration (TMR) for feeding their cows in 2002. This method combines all necessary nutrients into a single feed mix.

“Production rose 2,500 pounds that year,” Mike said. He also noticed significant improvements in cows’ digestions.

Cow comfort was enhanced in 2006, with mats in each stall, along with chopped straw and sawdust for bedding. Gutter grates were also added.

“Now there’s no slipping and falling,” Mike said, noting that leg and foot injuries have decreased as a result.

In 2007, the Tellers began feeding the close-up dry cows a separate ration three weeks before they calve.

“It’s little things that make the difference,” Mike said, adding that proper nutrition keeps cows’ immune systems healthy and reduces the strain of transition.


In 2013, Mike further refined his feeding methods by purchasing a hammer mill for grinding corn into fine pieces. He also added ClariFly to the feed rations to prevent flies from developing in manure.

A few small changes made in 2014 included the addition of manger liners, the use of hydrated lime on the back half of the stalls, and cleaning/bleaching water stock tanks up to once per week.

Mike has also implemented a foot-care routine for his herd. Hooves are trimmed twice per year, and cows receive foot baths every two weeks.

In August 2016, the Tellers installed LED long-day lighting in their barn. The initial price was $52 per light, with a rebate that brought the cost down to $32 to $38 per light. Mike said the lights have reduced his electricity usage and have helped increase milk production, especially in the winter.

“I think we figured a two-year payback on that,” Mike commented.

Overall, the Tellers try to focus on diligent record-keeping, quality feed (not always quantity), cow comfort, and calf care.

“Little things can and do make a difference,” Mike said.

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