Twenty years of grazing profitably, inside and outside the box

Holterholm Farms has been in the Holter family since 1889. Now owned and operated by Ron Holter with the help of his son Adam, it's one of the few remaining farms in Middletown Valley in Maryland, about an hour and a half from Washington, DC.  In the early days, the farm was diversified. Later it became strictly a dairy farm, and the herd moved into the barn.  But when Ron bought the farm from his dad 20 years ago, he realized that industrial-style dairy farming wasn't going to do anything but burn out him and the farm. He looked deep inside, and he prayed, and he put the cows on pasture about a year and a half later.  (See Making the Switch to Pasture Based Dairying for more on how he managed the change.) Since making that big move, Ron has tried lots of things, settling on a diversified farm with a grass-based, organic, grain-free dairy. His goal has been to reduce inputs and labor while increasing profits.  Each change Ron has made was with a lot of thought, and each has lessons for all of us. Seasonal Dairying After switching to grazing, the next of Ron's big changes was to move the herd to seasonal calving. Even in Maryland, winter is cold, and grazing doesn't provide much feed. With careful money management and reduced inputs, taking two months off from milk production was feasible.   Now they dry the herd off right before Christmas, and don't ship milk again until

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3 thoughts on “Twenty years of grazing profitably, inside and outside the box

  1. Great article! The info on mob stocking the Jerseys is invaluable.

    I would be very interested in what, if any, grass based Jersey semen Mr. Holter may have used. Or did he just select for performance from his own herd? I wonder if other dairy breeds would do better with the tall grass grazing?

    Another thought I’ve had, what about pros & cons on grazing deep rooted perennials vs. annuals (thinking 12 Aprils Dairy here) and there effects on nutrient density of milk, protein & fat numbers, cheese yield, etc.? Just loading you up with other article ideas… if you need more.

    1. Kristin,

      We switched to New Zealand Jersey semen in the late 90’s and used it for several years. We found the cows getting narrower in the front end and didn’t like that. We have used polled bulls from a small group out of Ohio (the Northcoast Group) that stresses longevity and some grazing characteristics. We are now using mostly our own bulls but still some from Northcoast.
      I would think that breeds that carry more flesh might do better with the mature grass mob grazing.

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