Farm fresh Family has deep dairy heritage
By Jennifer Carrico
Farming is about heritage and heritage runs deep at Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy near Hudson, Iowa. The fifth and sixth generation of the Hansen family currently run the farm, and the seventh generation is just getting started in the dairy business.
The farm has been in the family since 1864. Today, they milk 150 Holstein cows at the northeast Iowa farm. Jay and Jeanne Hansen live on the farm and their four sons run different parts of the farming operation, while their daughter raises her family in Omaha, Neb.
“With seven family members working on the farm, we all have our own job to do and Mom and Dad are here to help wherever it’s needed and give us advice,” Blake Hansen said.
The farm is made up of several different areas that all connect the dairy together. Blake is in charge of herd management. Unique to their farm is a barn, built by Jay’s father, Jack, in 1964. The barn was built to provide a resting area for the cows, a place for them to eat and a parlor for milking. This barn was the first of its kind in Iowa.
“When my grandfather built this barn, people thought he was crazy. But now, everyone is building barns like this,” Blake said. “I’m glad we have it.”
One hundred and fifty cows are fresh at all times, but they also sell about 60 cows out of their herd each year and raise all their own replacement heifers. All animals are registered with the Jaywood prefix. Cows that are sold are priced individually, thus providing everything for sale on the farm.
Blake said they have also raised several red Holsteins by breeding cattle with the recessive color gene to get the red coloring. Last year one farmer from Wisconsin bought nearly all of the red cows in their herd that were in production in hopes of having a herd of all red Holsteins.
The Hansens’ herd is a closed herd, with no animals coming into the herd to help ensure excellent herd health. All cows are artificially inseminated, as no bulls are kept on the farm. Male calves are sold at a couple days of age to another farm that raises them for beef.
In order to keep the parlor full of cows, they have about one calf per day, making new cows fresh and drying up cows that have already milked for 10 months.
Blake stresses selecting cows with good feet and legs to improve longevity. On average, cows at Hansen’s farm are about 6 years old and some as old as 10 years old.
“Our cows are out on dirt lots during the day and we trim their feet three times per year. Good exercise and foot health will improve longevity in dairy cows,” he said. “We also don’t push our cows extremely hard. We expect 75 to 80 pounds of milk per cow per day. This also ensures they stay around longer.”
The family on the farm does nearly all the herd health. Blake said one of the best investments they made was an ultrasound machine to help check reproductive health. They can check cows for pregnancy, but also check them for sound reproductive tracts if they aren’t showing estrous.
A good vaccination program keeps cows and calves in good health. They have a Johne’s disease–free herd and since they are a closed herd, they have few health problems.
The cows are treated with antibiotics only if they contract a serious infection, which is rare. If a cow has been treated, her milk is withheld from the raw milk tank, as it is not approved for human consumption. Their cows are not given growth hormones.
Good nutrition is also very important on dairy farms. Blair Hansen is in charge of the crops and nutrition.
The crops grown on their 450-acre farm are mostly used for cow feed. About half of the acres are designated for alfalfa and the other half mostly for corn. Corn is raised for silage and high-moisture corn. Hay is made into haylage and large square bales for feeding. They also grow some sorghum for cow feed.
Dry distillers grains, linseed meal and other minerals are also added to the cow’s feed in a total mixed ration. Cows are fed three times per day to ensure they get the proper nutrition needed to produce milk.
A milking cow will consume about 90 pounds of feed a day and drink about 40 gallons of water.
Cow manure is stored in a 1 million-gallon lagoon and injected on fields in the spring and fall.
About 10 years ago, after a trip to Australia, Blake decided to purchase three wallabies straight from New Zealand. This was also about the time the family decided to start processing their own milk.
A cartoon wallaby was drawn with a cow in the pouch and it has since been the logo for the farm and their products.
They have three wallabies and two kangaroos on the farm for people to see during tours.
In 2004, the first gallon of milk was processed through their new processing facility. Blake said they decided they needed to expand their operation to help provide income for the five families living and working on the farm.
“We live so close to town that expanding the herd and the number of cows we milk wasn’t going to work, so we decided to expand to processing the milk and other products,” he said.
Brad Hansen is in charge of processing the milk. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they process milk, butter, cheese curds and whipping cream and on Tuesday and Thursday they process ice cream in 30 different flavors. The milk is pasteurized but not homogenized.
“The molecules in our milk aren’t broken down, thus leaving the milk in its natural state. The cream rises to the top, even on the skim milk, so it must be shaken well before drinking,” Blake said.
Blake said they have been told by customers who are lactose intolerant that they can drink their milk without problems since it is non-homogenized.
The pasteurization process they use is HTST (high temperature short time), in which the milk is heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds and then cooled down. Blake said the water that is used in this heating process is recycled and re-used for the cow’s drinking water.
Brent Hansen is in charge of distribution and delivery to their three retail stores as well as 25 other stores and restaurants in a 25-mile radius of the farm.
At their three retail stores they offer all of their Hansen Farm Fresh Dairy products as well as other locally raised products.
Their non-homogenized milk has a shelf life of about three weeks.
Besides processing their own milk, the Hansens offer tours of their dairy farm and facility. Families, students and other groups tour the farm and learn about farming.
Their new tour center opened in March 2012.
“We talk to visitors about where their foods come from and the importance of agriculture in their lives,” Jeanne said. “They learn about the different parts of the cow and how they work, get to make butter, play educational games and eat ice cream.”
The Hansens think it’s very important to educate consumers about where their milk and other agriculture products come from.
Visitors on a guided tour see how milk gets from the farm to their table. They get to pet a calf and a wallaby and see the milking parlor, cow barns and creamery. They may also get the opportunity to milk a cow or feed a calf.
“Our tours are for all ages, from preschoolers to senior citizens,” Jeanne said. “You’re never too old to learn.”
The Hansen family aims to have a sustainable, prosperous dairy farm for their future generations to continue their rich heritage.
For more information, visit the Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy website at www.hansendairy.com.
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at email@example.com.