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January 2007

Partnerships: Dan Elzinga and Extension

Jacob McCarthy
Dept. of Animal Science

Dan Elzinga has watched his Ottawa County farm change a lot over the years. He’s seen it grow from a 60-cow tie-stall operation to 205 milking cows in free-stalls. He’s watched four kids grow up and three have made the dairy part of their livelihoods. He’s seen computers become an integral part of farm management and has witnessed first hand the fact that on a dairy farm, adaptation is key.

ElzingaAnd it began with an effort nearly 3 decades back to use the TelFarm record-keeping system.

“I worked with Larry Stebbins on that, and it was one of the first things I ever did with extension,” said Elzinga, who says he’s worked with Michigan State University Extension Educators and other dairy experts on many of the changes he’s implemented over the years.

“As you mature, the relationship changes,” Elzinga said when asked about the dynamic between Extension Educators and himself. “But I’ve always thought of MSU and its representatives as a place to go for unbiased information.”

Over the years he has worked with Extension Educators Bill Robb and Ira Krupp as well as district farm management agent Tom Purdy and MSU faculty members to employ practices he says are aimed at keeping his farm profitable and pleasant.

One of those changes was employing Ovsynch to synchronize ovulation for timed breeding, a switch spurred by an MSU-affiliated meeting on reproductive management. Another change was reducing the amount of commercial synthetic fertilizer spread on fields, something Elzinga says is proving to have been a good move.

“There’s something about when you buy fertilizer and put it on there you feel good about it but we’ve had good results in the last few years and we’re using less fertilizer.”

Elzinga’s adult son Nathan said lowering the phosphorus in the ration, a move spurred by his involvement in the Agricultural Technology program at MSU, also has had positive effects on the farm. He currently is working to develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan for the farm to help meet stiffer regulations in the event the farm is reclassified a concentrated animal feeding operation down the road. His father stands by such forward thinking, especially considering the charged atmosphere surrounding dairy farms and environmental issues.

“My thinking is if we can just try to do a good job and not have complaints it’ll go easier for us,” Elzinga said.
Elzinga also is involved in a pilot study conducted by MSU agricultural economist Steve Harsh that is looking at whether wind power can be harnessed effectively on farms. Right now that means there’s an anemometer, or wind meter, attached to the top of a long pole behind Elzinga’s bunker silos, but in the future it could mean more.

“If it shows it might be profitable we’ll pursue it more,” Elzinga said of the experiment with wind power. “Figuring out if you’ve got the potential is the first step to see if it’ll work.”

MSUE Educator Bill Robb says the Elzinga farm is a good example of extension and dairy producers working together.

“We try not to be only a brain trust of information but try to encourage people who want to be leaders in the industry. There are lots of ways we can assist them in making decisions and seeing they have enough information to make those decisions.”





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