NEW HOLSTEIN, Wis. – Gold Star Dairy is aptly named. The New Holstein-area farm recently earned gold recognition for dairy quality by the National Mastitis Council. But the gold standard doesn’t stop at dairy quality.

“They’re excellent dairy producers and are always looking for new ways to improve,” said Dr. Jessica Halbach about David Geiser, his wife, Deb Reinhart, and their son, Joshua Geiser, owners of Gold Star Dairy.

The family and Manuel Valenzuela, the farm’s herdsman, are dedicated and thorough, Halbach said. A veterinarian at Saint Anna Veterinary Clinic in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, she conducts bi-weekly herd-health checks at the farm. Rarely are there sick animals.

“Manny is vigilant and focuses on prevention versus treatment,” she said.

Reinhart calls him the “cow whisperer.”

Valenzuela is quick to credit the farm’s team for herd performance and dairy quality. He was a physical education teacher in Mexico before moving to Wisconsin. Now a soccer coach in addition to a herdsman, he works with his team members to set goals. Once they’ve achieved them, new goals are set. That helps keep the farm’s employees motivated and interested in what they’re doing, he said. There are seven members on the farm’s milking team.

The assistant herdsman, Martin Velasquez, is very detail-oriented, Valenzuela said.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re successful,” he said.

The team milks more than 450 cows three times daily in a double-eight parallel parlor.

“Our goal is to eventually run 540 cows through the parlor,” he said.

The current rolling herd average is 28,762 pounds with 4.1 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein. The somatic-cell count is 74,000. The herd averages 90 pounds of milk per cow per day sold, Reinhart said. The farm’s milk is purchased by Land O’Lakes.

Valenzuela attributes dairy-quality achievements to a number of factors. Among them are the team’s adherence to milking protocols, a good vaccination program, sand bedding and genetics.

Nicholas Fischer is a district sales manager for Alta Genetics. He and Valenzuela created a genetic index for selecting milk production, health, and udder-composition and leg-composition traits.

“We put a value on each trait we think is important,” Fischer said. “I enjoy working with Manny. He’s open to talking, learning and keeping his options open. He’s striving to be one of the best.”

Alta Genetics also provides the farm’s artificial-insemination services. The herd’s current pregnancy rate is 27 percent. Valenzuela is setting 30 percent as a goal; goal-setting is part of the farm’s culture.

“We focused on milk production in 2019,” Reinhart said. “We culled a lot of cows and focused on harvesting high-quality feed for high-performing cows.”

The family owns 183 acres and leases another 450 acres, growing corn and alfalfa.

The Gold Star Dairy team in 2019 met to share its goals with the farm’s nutritionist, veterinarian, agronomist, custom-harvester and area growers. Geiser and Reinhart purchase baleage from neighboring growers and spread manure on their fields. Goals were set for every step of the process – from seeding and planter calibration to harvest.

“When the crop was ready to cut we roared,” Reinhart said.

Todd LeNoble of Little Chute, Wisconsin, is a dairy nutritionist. He has worked with Gold Star Dairy for more than 10 years. Valenzuela monitors all aspects of what’s occurring on the farm.

“If there are any abnormalities he reaches out to me or the veterinarian,” LeNoble said.

He credits the farm team’s consistent day-to-day work in maintaining cow nutrition and immune systems. That helps maintain reduced somatic-cell counts, he said.

The farm’s goal for 2020 is to increase production to 100 pounds of milk per cow per day.

“There are opportunities in milk volume,” she said.

As the farm’s financial manager she monitors cost per hundredweight, debt per cow and return on investment. Using QuickBooks she calculates, for example, how much it costs to raise a calf to six months of age and how many cows need to be run through the parlor to be at full capacity.

“Knowing the numbers feeds back into milk quality and excellent components,” she said.

She credits the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s Financial Literacy program for “upping her game.”

Valenzuela said, “Earning the gold recognition by the National Mastitis Council means a lot to us. It’s a reflection of our team members, our families and the dairy industry. And when I’m drinking milk I’m thinking of all of us.”

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.