The Dotterer Family

Dairy Farmers from Rittman, Ohio

Brothers Mark and Matthew Dotterer, along with their father Rick, care for about 600 cows on their farm in Wayne County, Ohio.

You’ve been a dairy farmer your whole life. How have you seen the dairy industry change over your lifetime?

Rick: So much has changed. I remember Dad milking with two surge bucket milkers, and we didn’t have a pipeline milker until I graduated high school. Our herd averaged 40 pounds of milk per cow per day, and we were pretty happy with that. Now, if our average isn’t 90 pounds per cow we’re not satisfied. Recently we had 25 cows milk over 150 pounds, and the high cow had 193.8 pounds! I never would have imagined that kind of production 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. So with the robots, it’s just amazing what can happen and what the future could look like.

Your cows are milked with robotic milkers. How has that changed your management style?

Mark: When we decided to build the new barn, we knew we were going to put in robots. We’re able to manage and care for the cows with the robots instead of just using them to milk the cows. The robot will give you about 130 points of data a day, so it’s our job to try to sort through that. We know things like rumination rates, pedometer readings and more. And the better you are at sorting through that, the better off all the cows will be.

The flexibility we have with the robots is great. We can be out making hay, plant corn, working ground, whatever, and we’re not here all the time. But we have the app on our phone that we can check in all the time to see how things are.

We’ve always tried to do better, and we’ve embraced all the new technologies that have come along. We’re really getting down to individualizing every cow – it’s better for her, but also it’s better for us and for the environment. We want to try to have that cow have the smallest footprint she can have.

What’s a typical day on the farm like for you?

Matthew: I get here between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m., depending on how long it takes me to get going in the morning. I usually get on the computer and check the cows and check for newborn calves to see if any have been born overnight. And then I start cleaning the robot rooms; we do that twice a day and clean the leftover feed up from the cows in the morning. Dad does all the feeding, but I clean the leftover up for him. After that, it depends on the day – some days I have a specific job to do. For example, every other Monday the hoof trimmer comes, so we sort cows out for that. On Tuesdays, I give vaccinations to the dry cows that need them and move the ones who are close to calving into a straw pack. On Fridays, the vet comes out, and we check cows to make sure they’re healthy. Every day is different. I like being with the cows, and I like equipment, so I enjoy the variety.

How do you take care of the soil on your farm?

Mark: We have to care for the ground and the soil, as well as the cows. We feed our cows a balanced diet, and we need to have a balanced diet to feed the soil too.

We take soil samples of every field and know what each field needs for the next year – whether we need to add more manure or less manure or different synthetic fertilizers or whatever. We rotate crops between thing like corn, alfalfa, wheat and cover crops and know that every crop pulls a different amount of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium out of the ground. Knowing what each field needs is really important in managing that soil.

So really, as much as we’re checking on the cows, we’re checking into the soil.

Why do you plant cover crops on your land?

Mark: Our cover crop of choice is triticale. We plant it after we harvest corn silage or soybeans, and then we like to chop that triticale in the spring for feed. Doing that gives us an opportunity to apply manure on that ground, then work it up and plant corn in it. Then when we harvest that corn, we can apply manure again and put triticale back in to grow over the winter. We also have some hills, so if we have cover crops growing, it helps reduce erosion and keeps the nutrients in that field. In the long run, my goal is that when I’m done farming, the land that I’m working is in better shape than it was when I inherited it.

Learn more about how the Dotterers have embraced modern technology to take care of their cows or meet more Ohio and West Virginia dairy farmers.