Dairy farming is a tradition on the Metzger family’s Summit Farm in northwest Iowa that’s nearly a century old and still going strong.  

Rodney and Polly Metzger raised five children on the farm and all are active on the dairy farm today.

The Metzger family’s 250-cow dairy herd will be on display as the family hosts an open house in honor of June Dairy Month. The event, which is sponsored by Western Iowa Dairy Alliance, will take place June 28 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Summit Farm has grown as more children returned to the farm to work full time. The family built a milking parlor in 1963, when the family milked 80 cows, and they’ve added on as the farm has grown to 250 registered Jerseys.

Not only has the herd grown, but milk production per cow has increased too. Once at 12,000 pounds of milk per cow per year, production has nearly doubled to 20,000 pounds of milk per cow per year. That’s largely due to better genetics, Rodney says.

While increasing milk production is always a goal for the family, the focus is cattle care and comfort, Rodney says.

“If you have good cattle and you take good care of them and you feed them good, I think there’s still a future in (dairying),” he says.

A tight rein on costs

The family has worked hard to manage their costs to be able to support themselves and their employees, Rodney said.

“The biggest challenge is to make it profitable enough to pay everybody,” Rodney said. “The profit margin is smaller all the time. The cost of everything keeps going up, and the price of milk has fluctuated a lot. The other year we got about $32 a hundred(weight) and now it’s down to around $18 per hundred. So it’s fluctuated a lot.”

So the family holds on to things they can use and forgoes things like new buildings, newer technology — things they can do without. “We would like to put up a new facility, but that would really be a challenge to make it work with the price of milk like it is,” he said.

But he doesn’t complain. Rather, he says the family makes management decisions and works to control their operating costs.  “It’s always been a profitable, steady income as long as I’ve been involved in it,” Rodney says. “Every two weeks you get a paycheck.”

Then, the family adjusts their spending, says daughter Emma, who works closely with the family’s farm finances and recordkeeping.

“A milk check every two weeks makes it easier to see maybe where you’re going,” Emma says. “You’re not waiting for six months down the road and don’t know what you can or you can’t do … you can maybe watch it a little closer.”

Despite the changes in dairy prices, the Metzger children say they feel fortunate to be the fourth generation dairying on the family’s farm in northwest Iowa.

“I could have done anything after high school, but watching Dad through the years and seeing the passion he had for working with livestock and how hard he worked to provide for us as a family, I wanted the same thing for me some day,” said son Neil.

Emma says it’s a unique opportunity. “There’s not really any other place you get to work with your whole family every day, I like that,” she said. “It’s a different dynamic when you’re older and not just playing together. We each have our own area, but everybody still reports to Dad. He’s still the man in charge.”

Caring for cattle

The family says it’s important to help others understand how their food is grown through events like through the June Dairy Month open house they’ll host later this month.

“It’s important that people know how their milk is produced and the way we treat our cattle and the way we work with them every day,” Rodney said. “We take care of our animals seven days a week, 365 days per year.”

The family has been involved in various dairy and ag promotion events and organizations. Those events not only help educate consumers about agriculture, but encourage the next generation to be involved, Rodney says.

“I think once you’re raised on a farm, in this area especially, … I think it’s the dream of most any young kid to be a farmer or to be involved in agriculture, but it’s hard to do it. I’m just glad my children have had the opportunity that I’ve had to stay in agriculture and in the dairy industry. It’s important to have young people involved.”