Groves family dairy reaches new heights in production, forages and genetics

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

Two breeds. One goal. That’s the motto of Groves-View Dairy in Billings, Mo., where elite Holstein and brown Swiss cattle mingle and milk together in a highly productive combination.

The motto could be, “Two brothers. One goal.” As the fourth generation to run the family’s 118-year-old farm, Todd Groves and his younger sibling, Brad, are taking the dairy to new heights in milk production, forage quality and award-winning genetics.

“Todd and Brad are excellent forage raisers, they have top-notch registered Holsteins and brown Swiss, and they sell bulls locally and all over the country,” said Chuck Hubbert, MFA livestock key account manager in southwest Missouri. “They have quality show cattle, and they also have cows that really milk. I would put them in the top of the state.”

Make that top of the entire industry. Groves-View Dairy is currently tied for No. 1 in breed age average (BAA) with a score of 109.2 among dairies with more than 150 cows, as ranked by Holstein Association USA, the largest dairy breed organization in the world. The BAA provides a way to compare the score of an animal—and the herd average—to other registered Holsteins in the industry, while taking into account age and stage of lacta­tion. The BAA of the average Holstein herd is 100.

It’s only one achievement in a long history of success for the venerable dairy, which was established in 1913 by German immigrants Walter and Lula Luezinger. The farm subsequent­ly passed into the hands of their only child, Emma, and her husband, Jack Groves. Their sons, Lonnie and Darrel, were the third generation to operate the dairy.

Todd and Brad, Lonnie’s sons, took over most of the farming responsibilities in 2008 after their father was seriously hurt by a bull. While the injuries have limited his physical abilities, the elder Groves, now 78, is still involved in farm planning and record-keeping.

“Dad was in the hospital and in rehab for four and a half months,” Todd said. “He didn’t walk probably for a year and a half. In fact, they said he would never walk again, but he proved them wrong.”

At the time, Brad was farming with his dad, but Todd worked in the oil refinery business, which kept him on the road more than half of the year. After the accident, Todd came home to farm full time.

“I worked off the farm for about 20 years,” Todd said. “Well, the whole time, I was here helping when I could, but full time it’s been 13 years ago this June. It was a good job; I was just never home. And when I was, I was either putting up hay or planting corn, and gone again. There were a lot of years I was gone 280 days a year. I learned a lot. Met some incredible peo­ple. But I was needed here more.”

Todd’s wife, Sheila, can be credited with adding brown Swiss cattle to the farm’s Holstein heritage. The herd is now a mix of about three-fourths Holstein and one-fourth brown Swiss. 

“The Swissies came with my marriage in 1991,” Todd said. “Shei­la’s family had Holstein and Swiss, but they milked on two different farms. She brought some Swiss with her, and they just kind of got out of control. Seriously, they’ve been good to us. They bring extra fat and protein to the milk, and they compete really well with the Holsteins.”

HISTORY AND PROGRESS

The Groves-View Dairy of today is a merger of tradition and evolu­tion. Family history can be felt throughout the 700-acre farm—from the vintage blue Harvestore silo to the 1960s-era milking parlor where Todd, Brad and two full-time employees milk 175-180 cattle twice daily.

Progressive changes in the farm’s more recent history include the adoption of no-till practices, electronic production measurement technology and embryo transfers to improve herd genetics. About a decade ago, the brothers also enlisted the expertise of a herd nutritionist and switched their milk cows to a total mixed ration (TMR) feeding program.

Perhaps one of the most influential advancements, however, is an intensified focus on high-quality, high-yielding forages. Todd and Brad raise 150 acres of pure alfalfa, along with wheat and rye, all of which is harvested and stored as baleage. They cut and bale the forage with 55% to 60% moisture, and then wrap it in plastic to create an airtight environment for ensiling.

The system takes a quick turnaround, Brad said. They try to cut one day, bale the next and wrap immediately. None of the baleage is tedded, if they can help it, he added. Eliminating this step not only saves one more pass through the field but also limits mechanical damage to the forage.

Compared to dry hay, the decreased curing time from cutting to baling makes weather less of a factor, helps reduce harvest losses and preserves as much nutrition as possible. It also takes careful, timely management—and dedication.

“It doesn’t matter how many hours we have to work in the night or day, if it’s time and the weather’s right, we put our forage up,” Todd said. “I’ll admit, sometimes we do get carried away cutting and get too much down. A couple weeks ago, I started on the alfalfa at 3:30 a.m., and I walked in the house at 20 after 3:00 the next morning.”

“And we’ve done that twice in the last month, once putting up our rye, and the second time putting up our first alfalfa cutting,” Brad added.

During the growing season, the Groves family harvests the alfalfa on 28- to 30-day intervals and usually gets five to six cuttings per year. Todd said they consistently achieve more than 6 tons of dry matter per acre, which removes a relatively high amount of soil nutrients. Ensuring adequate soil fertility for the legume is another key to their successful forage production.

“You’ve got to feed that crop—and it takes lots of pot­ash and sulfur,” Todd said. “We don’t put any nitrate on at all, and we don’t have to apply any phosphate. Usually, it gets 220 to 240 units of potash per year in split applications, once after second cutting and last cutting. And I put 30 pounds of sulfur on the first application.”

“Our phosphate is done with cow manure,” he added. “Neighbors tell us that’s cheat­ing, and I tell them we’ve got to have some added benefit for milking cows. All the manure is put on during the corn years.”

Todd explained that once an alfalfa stand has “played out,” 

usually every four to five years, the field is rotated to corn, which is no-tilled into the forage stubble. The Groveses then raise corn, mostly for silage, back-to-back for three years, before re-seeding those fields into alfalfa again.

“In that first year you put corn into an alfalfa stand, the yield is mind-boggling,” Todd said. “It will outperform everything on the place.”

BALEAGE TO BRAG ABOUT

The agronomic attention pays off in feedstuffs with outstanding nutritive quality, which, in turn, translates to impressive milk production. The farm’s forage tests regularly break the 200 mark in relative feed value—an RFV over 185 is considered to be the highest ranking of “supreme.” And the dairy’s average milk output is 86 to 87 pounds per cow, per day—more than 10 gallons—well above the average of 75 pounds the Holstein Association reports.

“I like seeing how far we can go, what levels we can reach,” Todd said. “But it all comes at a cost. You’ve got to decide if it’s worth it or not.”

The value of those efforts was affirmed last summer when Groves-View topped the alfalfa haylage category of the hay show at the 2020 Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo. The win­ning entry scored a relative forage quality of 276—one of the highest RFQs ever recorded at the competition. The farm was also awarded reserve champion for another entry with an RFQ of 264. Both entries were the same alfalfa variety, WL 375HVX, which features Roundup Ready technology and the HarvXtra low-lignin trait.

It was the first time the brothers had entered the hay contest, but they said it won’t be the last.

“When we got our forage test results back last spring, Chuck Hubbert saw them and said, ‘Why don’t you enter a hay con­test?’” Todd said. “I said, ‘Because we never have.’ So, he sent somebody up here from Extension to pull samples for the show. Those tests came back better than what we sent in. I knew it was good, but I didn’t realize it was that good. We’ll definitely enter again. Brad has pulled samples from this year’s baleage, and it’s pretty impressive, too.”

When it comes to managing their cattle, the Groveses are just as meticulous as they are with their forages. Lactating cows are provided a TMR in the feed alley prior to milking. The ration formulation fluctuates depending on the nutrition levels of the corn silage and baleage. Weaned calves are fed MFA Stand Out Dairy Calf Starter, then transition to MFA Trendsetter developer ration at 5 to 6 months of age. 

“It all begins when the cow is pregnant, making sure she has plenty of feed and a clean, dry bed,” Todd said. “When calves are born, they get colostrum within an hour, and then they get all their vaccines. We wean the hutch calves at roughly 3 months old, and then they transition over to feed.”

SUCCESS IN THE SHOW RING

Such attention to cow care and quality genetics has helped Groves-View Dairy build a reputation for top-performing Holstein and brown Swiss cattle, highly regarded for both milk production and on the show circuit. Through the years, the family has received numerous awards in the industry and at livestock shows all over the nation. In 2020, one of the dairy’s home-bred cows was named “All-American” by the Brown Swiss Association in a program that recognizes outstanding animals exhibited at state and national shows during the year.

The Groves family is also known for selling embryos and bulls from the farm’s deeply pedigreed lines. But as dairy num­bers continue to dwindle, so does that business.

“It used to be 80 bulls a year. In 2015, we sold 128. Now we’re under 40,” Brad said. “But you look at how many dairies are gone, and it’s no wonder. In 2000, there were 128 dairies in Christian County, and there’s only seven of us left.”

For Groves-View, there’s a fifth-generation poised to continue the farm’s legacy if they desire. Brad and his wife, Gail, have a son, Taylor, 22, a mechanic by trade, and a daughter, Kiera, 20, who runs her own laser-engraving business. Both work on the dairy part-time.

Todd and Sheila have three children, Bailey, 19, an animal science major at Missouri State University; Grant, 20, who just graduated from Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill., with an animal science degree; and Brittany Whitehill, 27, who works for the Farm Service Agency. The three siblings are active in the show circuit and help out on the dairy when needed.

“This year, they’ve got big plans for attending the World Dairy Expo in Madison (Wisconsin) and the South­western National Brown Swiss show in Stillwater (Oklahoma),” Todd said. “And they’ll hit all the state shows, too.”

Whether any of the children will return to the farm full time is yet to be seen. “Who knows?” is the only answer Todd can give. What he and his brother do know is that, despite the indus­try’s challenges, the Groves family plans to stick with dairying as long as they can make it work.

“I wish there were more money in it, but now’s not the time to bail, even if we wanted to,” Brad said. “It’s not easy, but we really love what we do.”

Visit grovesviewdairy.com or follow on Facebook to learn more about the farm. For more information on MFA feed and alfalfa varieties, talk with the experts at your local MFA affiliate or visit online at http://storelocator.mfa-inc.com/.