South Dakota co-op and dairy have an 'udderly' good partnership

The Garfield Dairy in Bryant South Dakota is a member of Basin Electric Class C member H-D Electric Cooperative.

Though it’s not a co-op, the community-minded values of the new Garfield Dairy near Bryant, South Dakota, make it an ideal member for an electric cooperative with the same commitment to community.

When Riverview, LLC, Garfield Dairy’s parent company (based in Minnesota) began looking for the site of its newest dairy, it logically looked for proximity to a processing facility, but also a place where it would have community support. “Community is one of the most important thing we look for in a location,” Martha Koehl, who works in communications at Riverview, says. “We don’t just want to be a business that just happens to be located there, we want to develop partnerships and relationships with the people and businesses in the community. And that is exactly what happened with the Garfield Dairy,” she says.

The dairy, named for the township in which it is located, is served by H-D Electric Cooperative in Clear Lake, South Dakota. The dairy operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The first cows were milked in 2021, and today 10,500 cows are milked twice a day. 

The cows at the dairy live in free-stall housing, meaning they can move around freely – eating, drinking, and laying down in their pens whenever they choose. When it’s time for them to be milked, employees open the gates to their pens and the cows walk to the milking parlor where they step onto a rotating carousel, are hooked up to milking machines, and in seven-and-a-half minutes are finished and return to their home pens on their own.

Each day, some 60,000 gallons of milk are hauled from the dairy to a nearby cheese processing facility. The cows at Garfield Dairy are predominantly Jersey cows because the milk that breed produces is one of the best for making cheese. Alex Hohertz, who works in crop production at the dairy, says the milk is mainly used for mozzarella cheese.

At the dairy, 10,500 cows are milked twice a day.

The herd at the Garfield Dairy is a closed herd, meaning its cows are not bought and sold – the calves that are born there will become part of the herd after they have their own first calf. The dairy has a maternity area with birthing pens, and after calves are born, they receive their mothers’ first milk, called colostrum. They then are cared for by specialized staff before they spend their first year at a facility in Arizona. Calves are raised there because the climate is better for them. Then, when they have their first calf, they return to the northern dairies to begin their careers as dairy cows. Bull calves are sold to various local producers to be raised as dairy steers.

Developing partnerships in the community is part of the dairy’s culture. “We rely heavily on area producers,” Hohertz says. “We are an outlet for their crops, buying 100% of the feed we use from local farmers. And the manure produced at the dairy is applied to local farmland, providing fertilizer for the fields that produce that feed.”

Garfield Dairy also depends on the local co-op for its electricity, something that is essential to its day-to-day operation. “We are a large, round-the-clock operation and a lot of animals depend on us, so reliable electricity is very important,” Hohertz says. “It takes a lot of electricity to run a dairy, and some of our most important systems won’t run without it – things like the milking carousel, milking machines, and the cross-ventilation systems in the barns, which are large fans that pull air out and keep cows cool – something that is especially important on hot days like we’ve had this summer.”

The relationship Garfield Dairy has developed with H-D Electric began even before production. Tom Lundberg, member services manager for H-D Electric, says Garfield Dairy is one of the co-op’s key accounts and one of four dairies it serves. “We’ve worked hard to develop a relationship with the people at the dairy, and it’s been very positive,” Lundberg says. “Not only do we appreciate the dairy as a customer but also what it has brought to the communities we serve. It has brought employees to the area – families who live and work here. These people are our new members as well, and they strengthen our membership and our cooperative as a whole.”

Koehl agrees that having shared values is beneficial. “Working with H-D, we’ve learned that there are a lot of parallels between our business and the co-op,” Koehl says. “Like us, H-D exists to serve its members and is dedicated to the communities it serves. We know we’re in this together. It’s mutually beneficial for our businesses, our communities, and those we serve.”

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