By Diana Hammell
The Caledonia Argus
Darin Meyer has racked up a stack of awards for his dairy operation. He’s won the Progressive Breeder award for the past 23 years – ever since the award came out. But, Darin doesn’t like to talk about awards. He doesn’t seek them out and doesn’t apply for ones that he justly deserves. “They don’t pay the bank,” Dustin Meyer, Darin’s brother, said.
De Su Observer
But, talk about his bull, De Su Observer, and Meyer lights up like New York on New Year’s Eve. Meyer was recently informed that De Su Observer was named the #1 Holstein bull in the world. “Now, that’s a big deal,” Meyer admitted. “His placement is based on his genetic evaluation which is based on his daughters’ Total Performance Index or TPI,” Meyer said. “The TPI is a composite of production, health and phenotype.”
“De Su Observer was the #1 genomic bull three years ago as a calf,” Meyer said. This was determined by studying Observer’s DNA and discovering the potential he had to produce top offspring. Now, three years later he’s the actual #1 proven bull, evidenced by the success of his daughters.
King of Genetics
De Su Observer isn’t the only top bull that Meyer owns. Meyer has nine bulls in the top 50 in the world. He also owns the #1 genomic bull in Germany and the #1 progeny-proven bull in Canada. He is the breeder of five bulls in America’s DNA-tested top 15. None of these bulls are at De Su Holsteins, located in the Wheatland area, just over the border into Iowa between Eitzen and New Albin. They’re all at different studs where they’re air conditioned in the summer and pampered like the celebrities they are. A bull stud, such as Select Sires, ABS or Genex, is a source cattlemen go to to purchase semen for their females. The bulls reside at the stud where the semen is collected and marketed.
Meyer actually has the biggest program like this in the world. He has put more bulls – 100 to 120 per year – in the bull stud than anyone else. “That’s a huge number considering they take only 1,000 sampled in the U.S.,” Meyer said. His bulls and the semen from his bulls are all over the world, and Meyer sells more embryos all over the world than anyone else, too.
“De Su Holsteins is the premier provider of Holstein genetics in North America,” Scott Culbertson, Holstein Sire Analyst from Select Sires, Inc. said. “This well run dairy is at the forefront of supplying superior genes through the males they produce around the world. They exhibit everything great about a farm family. Honest, hard working and running one of the most efficient dairies in the U.S. is the base of how they run their registered Holstein business. Their cow families, use of technology and great cattle husbandry has just taken them to the next level. Select Sires is very proud to sell some of their best to all markets world-wide.”
It takes vision
Meyer has obviously taken dairy farming to another level. Right now the Meyers have a total of 1,250 Holstein cows and are milking 1,100. Add to that about 2,000 head of young stock and around 200 young bulls. The side of their state-of-the-art milking parlor looks like a Caledonia Haulers parking lot; they fill two big tankers per day. His production numbers are through the roof and he’s had the highest herd average in the county for the last seven to eight years. This success is all due to the fact that Meyer is dedicated to achieving great genetics for his herd.
This exceptional success in today’s breeding world is due to a vision held by Meyer and a solid plan of approach. “For me, it is all about pure genetics without frills. That is a perfect match with genomics,” Meyer said in a recent article in Holstein International. Meyer feels that concentrating on breeding cow families is overestimated. He says that his real client is the commercial dairyman who wants cows that survive and have maximum profitability.
Meyer arranges every single mating for all cows and heifers on the entire farm. That means that he individually chooses the mates that will create the progeny he’s looking for out of each cow, and he does that for thousands of matings. He’s repeated this process every year for years. Based on the selection he wants, Meyer buys semen, puts it in his tank, and then makes his own matings. He does the frozen embryos himself; they do 2,400 embryo transplants per year. “I have been making every mating on each cow and each heifer myself since I was 14 years old. My father allowed me to do this because I believe in individual matings and in larger herds, too,” Meyer said. “Everything we do over here is for ourselves and for nobody else – not for sire analysts, not for other breeders; no, for ourselves… for personal satisfaction. I haven’t had any advice from a sire analyst for 12 to 15 years already. Only when you do everything yourself can you hold yourself accountable for all the success as well as the mistakes.”
The farm family
While Darin is the genetics guru, he’s joined by his brother, Dustin, and their father, Dean, who started the whole operation with a small heard of good cows years ago. A sister, Shannon, takes care of the books. “Shannon knows more about Darin’s money that he does,” Sue Meyer said. Sue is Dean’s wife and the Su in the De Su name of the farm.
This crew is very hands-on with day-to-day operations even though they employ 20 people. If there are any sick cows they are milked in a separate building by Darin or Dean themselves. Dustin oversees all of the field work and Dean does a little bit of everything. They farm 2,500 acres of corn and hay. “We feed everything we grow and buy the balance of what we need,” Darin said.
At De Su the cows are milked 24/7. As soon as the last cow walks away from the milkers, the first one approaches again. This works out to each cow being milked just about three times each day.
The Holstein breed is from Holland, and Meyer will be traveling there for business soon.
While some cows may be productive considerably longer, the average productive life of a Holstein is approximately four years. Although she’s not seen in the milking stalls lately, De Su’s foundation dam, O-Man daughter 6121 BG-86, wanders the pastures at De Su and is eight years old. The powerful and desirable traits seen in many of De Su’s top bulls can be traced to her.
The Holstein Association USA tells us that the 2011 average actual production for all U.S. Holstein herds that were enrolled in production-testing programs and eligible for genetic evaluations was 23,385 pounds of milk, 858 pounds of butterfat and 719 pounds of protein per year.
Top producing Holsteins milked three times a day have been known to produce over 72,000 pounds of milk in 365 days.
The Holstein Association says that Holstein dairy cattle dominate this country’s milk production industry. They claim the reason for their popularity is clear: unexcelled production, greater income over feed costs, unequaled genetic merit and adaptability to a wide range of environmental conditions. Added up, this means more profit for the dairy producer who milks Holsteins. “This point becomes even clearer when you consider that nine of every 10 dairy producers currently milk Holsteins,” the association states.
Credit where credit is due
Other producers will be following De Su’s lead and copying Meyer’s breeding methods. When big commercial concerns pick up on how De Su has been so successful, De Su might not have such a high percentage of the highest ranked bulls in the world. If that does happen, however, the credit for everyone’s success still can be traced back to De Su – just down the road from all of us.