• Eleven hundred Holstein cows milked three times a day, producing 100,000 pounds of milk, enough to fill two large tanker trucks with fresh milk every day of the year.
• A double-18 milking parlor that can milk 150 cows per hour.
• A work force of 27 employees, 17 who milk the massive dairy herd virtually around the clock.
• An operation that averages four to five new calves every day, and sometimes as many as 12 to 15 new calves in a single day.
• A farrow to finish hog operation that produces 10,000 animals a year.
• A crop farming business that includes 800 acres of alfalfa and 1,800 of corn ground.
The preceding facts and figures seem almost unbelievable for a family dairy operation here in Fillmore County. But that’s just what LeRoy and Darleen Johnson and their children and grandchildren have built on their Norway Township farm, located between Bratsburg and Highland.
LeRoy and Darleen bought the small dairy farm in 1967. They started out milking 36 cows. As their family grew to 13 children, the dairy farm grew as well. By the late 1970’s, four of the Johnson’s six sons (LeRoy Jr., Jim, Mark and Brad) expressed a desire to continue farming with their parents and a corporation was formed. The dairy herd was now 85 cows strong and the farrow to finish hog operation was expanded as well.
Within a few years the two oldest sons moved on and the two youngest, Jeff and Richard and daughter Ellen (Eide) got involved with the family operation. The dairy herd grew to 150 cows.
“My brother Jeff was killed in 1981,” Mark noted. “Since then it’s been Mom, Dad, my brothers Brad, Richard, sister Ellen and brother-in-law Gerald and myself. Mom and Dad are considered ‘generation one’ Brad, Richard, Ellen, Gerald and myself are considered ‘generation two,’ and we now have three ‘generation three’ working with us, Trinity, Lee and Zach Johnson.” Mark continued.
In 2000, a massive free stall barn (102 feet by 400 feet) that could handle 750 cows was built. By 2007 Johnson Rolling Acres was milking 700 cows three times a day and had an additional 500 dry cows and heifers. Their swine operation was also expanded, now producing more than 4,000 hogs annually.
In 2013 another large barn (220 feet by 440 feet) was constructed that handles 680 milking cows, plus several hundred pre-fresh cows and a large nursery for the 40 to 60 new calves that are born each week. The new barn is cooled by well water that is pumped up through the walls of the structure and massive fans blow across the grid of water pipes, keeping the gigantic bovine herd cool and comfortable.
When the young calves are about a week old, they are transported to another farm near Preston, where they are raised to about six months. Then they are moved on to another farm where they are reared to about 13 months. Then they return to the Norway Township location where they are artificially inseminated and become part of the ever-growing dairy herd. Mark, Trinity and Walter Laumb do the inseminating and also perform much of the day-to-day veterinary work. An area vet does make a weekly stop to check the herd out and conduct pregnancy tests.
Each dairy cow is given a computer chip that is read when the animal enters the milking parlor. The computerized system keeps track of how much milk each cow produces.
When asked about the huge dairy operation with an equally large swine business, Mark replied, “our father taught us it’s good to be diversified. It’s the same way with our cropland. We raise more crops than we feed. With dairy, hogs and crops, if the prices drop for one part of our operation, we still have the other two to rely on. Being diverse is one reason we have been successful.”
Another reason for the success of Johnson Rolling Acres is the fact that the Johnson family has been able to work so well together. Mark noted that his father stressed that everyone leave the farm to go off and get an education and experience other aspects of life first. Then, if they want to return to the farm and become part of the operation, that’s perfectly acceptable. He and his siblings have continued to promote their father’s sage advice.
“It’s one of the reasons this has worked,” Mark added. “And I’m sure there will be more from ‘generation three’ who will becoming part of the Johnson Rolling Acres in the future.”