Benthem Brothers Dairy will receive the 2021 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year Award. The dairy is a family operation run by brothers Doug and Bruce, along with Doug’s son Jason and Bruce’s sons Ryan and Kyle.
The award is given by the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University (MSU) and will be presented during the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference, which will be held virtually Feb. 4-5, 2021.
Benthem Brothers Dairy, located in McBain, Michigan (Missaukee County), started with 30 cows in 1981, when Doug and Bruce took over the family farm started by their parents Edwin and Trina Benthem in the 1940s.
Today, Doug and Bruce are in the process of transitioning the farm ownership and management to their sons, while providing leadership and counsel. Jason and the herdsman manage the cows and work with the employees. Ryan manages feed, purchasing and business aspects, while Kyle is taking on the role of crop production and serves as the lead for managing milk price risk. Jason is also the main contact for inspections conducted by regulatory agencies and dairy cooperative field staff.
Character, unity and teamwork were evident, when representatives from the Department of Animal Science and MSU Extension visited the farm. “The family trusts one another and their employees and look to each other to make sure all aspects of the farm are managed and maintained”, said Phil Durst, Extension Educator in northern Michigan.
The nomination statement encapsulates the reason Benthem Brothers Dairy was chosen for this award: “Their forward-thinking nature has allowed them to successfully grow and adapt to the challenges facing the dairy industry and has proven them a role model amongst Michigan dairy farmers.”
The dairy has grown to around 2,850 cows. Expansion was accompanied by increases in acreage as opportunities arose, including purchase of the original Benthem homestead farm dating back to the 1880s, as well as infrastructure upgrades and additions.
The history of the farm and its trajectory were featured in a virtual farm tour during the 2018 World Dairy Expo.
A hallmark of the Benthem Brothers Dairy is incorporation of technology. Perhaps the most influential technological improvement began in 2016 with their search for a rotary parlor to improve efficiency and to accommodate a larger herd size without around-the-clock milking. The search led them as far as New Zealand and ended with a Waikato Milking Systems 60-stall rotary parlor, the first in the United States.
The parlor has a laminate composite platform that is 75% lighter than the usual concrete and can be operated by two people with only a few steps in the process. It includes automatic pre- and post-dip sprayers, automatic detachers and electronic milk meters (https://www.progressivedairy.com/topics/people/family-at-center-of-benthem-brothers-commitment-to-quality).
The Benthems also incorporated a CowManager motion-sensing system to monitor rumen and cow activity. In addition, radio-frequency identification tags and automated sort gates aid in reducing labor hours and decreasing cow stress.
The World Dairy Expo virtual tour emphasized the family’s appreciation for their employees and cow welfare. Ryan Benthem noted that “providing a quality working environment…gives us good quality employees. That’s the key for our farm. We have great employees we can rely on every day.”
The dairy operation stands out in its dedication to the community. Family member involvement includes Big Brothers Big Sisters, youth basketball coaching, church activities, Michigan Milk Producers Association, company boards and local youth shows. Among its outreach endeavors, the farm hosted Breakfast on the Farm in 2011 and recently hosted a farm tour for MMPA young farmers.
Quality, efficiency, and good management have been operational goals for Benthem Brothers Dairy, and it has been recognized for the effort. In 2019 and 2020 it was awarded National Mastitis Council National Dairy Quality Awards (Silver). In 2017, not only did the dairy receive a Gold MMPA Quality Award, but it also was a finalist for Consumers Energy Project of the Year. The farm is featured as a case study by Consumers Energy for upgrades resulting in 687,598 kWh electric savings each year. The farm also is Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program verified in farmstead, cropping and livestock.
In the words of the nominator, “their congeniality and open-farm policy to any of their fellow producers make the Benthems an outstanding neighbor, dairy producer and nominee for this award.”
“The Benthems are leading the way in using new technologies which benefit farm economics, employee satisfaction and animal welfare,” said Dr. Dale Rozeboom, interim co-chair of the Department of Animal Science. “It is with great pleasure that the MSU Department of Animal Science recognizes the Benthem Brothers Dairy as the 2021 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year.”