Poland dairy expands with organic beef


by: SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - Jos Poland and his kids Johan, left, Maikel and Maija, right, feed a calf at the dairy.Since it began operation in Jefferson County in 2005, Poland Organic Dairy, owned by Jos and Deanna Poland, has expanded and branched out in a few new areas.

The farm on Northwest Elm Lane in Madras has grown from 275 to 340 organic certified acres, and the number of Holstein cows milked has increased from 150 to 270.

The cows are still milked twice a day, at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., and the Polands have added three employees, for a total of four to help run the dairy. A truck with a “Milky-Way” sign picks up milk at their farm every other day, since the milk can’t be held any longer than 48 hours before being processed.

Besides working with Dairygold and selling milk to the Horizon Organic brand, the Polands have also gone into the organic beef business.

“We have 80 head of Holstein steers we raise for organic beef,” Jos Poland said, noting they work with a man who sells the meat at farmers’ markets in Beaverton and McMinnville.

For the past couple of years, they have also been selling milk to their neighbors, the Oberlings, who made organic sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheeses at the Ancient Heritage Dairy. “That was a fun project, but they’ve sold their sheep and are moving to Portland to build a cheese plant next to a restaurant,” Poland said.

In 2005, there were 45 certified organic dairies in Oregon, Washington and Northern California, and Poland said the number hasn’t grown much. With the economic recession, the demand for organic milk leveled off in the Pacific Northwest, he said, noting it’s still expanding in the Mid-West and East.

“The problem is, there’s not enough organic feed being grown, and that it takes three years (without pesticides or herbicides) to transfer current land over to organic land,” he said.

While Poland Dairy has organic pastures for the cows to graze in, he said they buy organic alfalfa from CAL Farms, which also raises radishes and vegetables on Agency Plains.

With CAL Farms, he said they do the first and fourth alfalfa cuttings in silage. “Silage doesn’t have to be dried down, which means you can put up feed faster and better,” Poland said, adding, “With silage, you can pick up alfalfa in two days, while hay takes seven days to dry. You gain time, which means you can put irrigation on and (the next alfalfa cutting) grows faster.”

To make silage, they put the fresh-cut alfalfa into piles and cover it with plastic to remove oxygen. “Once we open a pile, it is fed fresh, so we have to feed it continuously or it will spoil,” he said.

For grain, the dairy feeds organic barley, and sometimes wheat mill run, which is a byproduct of organic bakeries. Cattle raisers were affected by the increase in corn prices, when many growers shifted over from raising feed corn to growing corn for the biofuel market. Organic dairies were also affected.

“When corn is high, barley is high and wheat is high. And some who were raising organic grain went back to raising conventional grain because it was easier and more profitable,” Poland said, addint, “This year, alfalfa prices will be high because of the drought in California.”

Organic dairies cannot use hormones or antibiotics, and that hasn’t been a problem at the Poland Dairy. “When we started, we had to make sure we had healthy cows and it’s amazing how it works. When cows occasionally get an udder infection, they can fight if off themselves without antibiotics, as long as their immune system is strong,” he said.

Before, pneumonia was a problem, especially with young calves. But now the calves are fed milk three times a day, and their environment is kept very healthy. “Basically, we don’t have a problem anymore,” he said.

The biggest thing over the past 10 years has been the three years it took to transition their land to organic-certified pasture. “Then it takes another four years before it becomes very productive, because you have to establish the right varieties of grass and build up the organic matter in the soil. Our only fertilizer is cow manure,” he said.

The dairy’s most recent project is to breed some Holstein cows with Angus, and use the offspring for their organic beef production.

Ideally, organic beef is finished off on grass, as opposed to feedlot steers that are fattened on grain.

“The Holsteins we feed some grain, but we think the half-Angus can be finished without grain,” Poland said.

While he milks and runs the dairy, Deanna does the bookwork and rides herd on their three children, Johan, and twins Maikel and Maija. While they’re too young for 4-H, all three kids entered calves in the open class section of the fair last year.