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Sioux County names year’s dairyman

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

Kurt Wierda was recently named Sioux County Dairy Farmer of the Year at their annual banquet. Wierda lives in Orange City, manages the Plymouth County Dairy and is President of the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance.

LE MARS – Kurt Wierda had just finished giving a report for the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance when he looked out into the audience. Wierda was surprised to see that his wife and parents had entered the banquet room in Sioux Center.

He sat down just as the description for the winner of the Sioux County Dairyman of the Year Award was being read. Suddenly, he was listening to his own accomplishments – a graduate of Maurice-Orange City High School and Iowa State University, worked on a dairy by Maurice, Land O’Lakes Dairy Answer Farm, former manager of Sibley Dairy and currently manager of Plymouth County Dairy and serving as WIDA president, an organization he helped develop.

Wierda said he was surprised and honored to receive this award two weeks ago during the 42nd annual Sioux County Diary Banquet.

All his life he has been around cows, Wierda said. First on his parent’s dairy farm near Maurice, then working on other dairy farms in the area. After his ISU years, he returned to northwest Iowa where his and wife Jill’s families live.

Since 2006 he has been general manager of the Plymouth County Dairy, which is owned by the Feuerhelm family that has been farming in the area since the early 1900s.

The mostly 2,700 Holstein cows are milked three times a day. The dairy has 30 full time employees with all the milk going to Wells Blue Bunny in Le Mars.

One of the attributes given to Wierda at the dairy banquet was his steadfastness in promoting the need and importance of dairy local people. Working with the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce and Blue Bunny, Wierda welcomes the opportunity to provide tours of the dairy.

“April and May are usually filled with school tours,” said Wierda. “Congressmen, family reunions, anyone is welcome.”

The farm raises all its own corn silage, but does purchase ethanol byproducts. Feed rations remain consistent throughout the year, Wierda said, as cows love consistency. A nutritionist visits every other week, walking through the barns, checking the cows.

The dairy retains ownership in heifer calves. These are custom-raised offsite until nine months old. At that time another contractor provides care for the calves until they are four months bred at which time they return to Plymouth Dairy.

These bred heifers and dry cows have access to pasture and a building to provide shade on hot days. They can choose where they want to be.

Milking cows are kept comfortable in large open free-stall buildings that measure 93-by-736-feet. Designed for cows’ comfort the buildings are equipped with fans and a sprinkler system. Cows can only cool by evaporation, Wierda explained. A light water spray combined with blowing air aid in keeping the cows content, which is the dairy’s goal.

As manager, Wierda finds himself spending 75 percent of his time in the office with record keeping and payroll. The other 25 percent is spent keeping the dairy running smoothly.

“Managing employees is a full time job,” Wierda said. “I don’t expect someone to do something I wouldn’t do. I work side-by-side with them.” Because of that mutual respect, there is little employee turnover at the dairy, he said. Most of the employees have been with the operation for more than five years.

Special events are planned throughout the year, which include the entire family. Health insurance is also offered.

Right now things are a struggle on dairy farms because of the low milk price. For now, Wierda chooses to focus on taking care of the cows, keeping the herd healthy so that they will continue to milk well.

“Dairy products are still a good buy,” said Wierda. “For the dollar spent, the consumer gets their calcium and other nutritional needs met.”

Contact Renae Vander Schaaf by e-mail her at renaefarmnews@gmail.com.

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