Spring Prairie Dairy Heart of the Hutterite Colony

300-cow operation one of several enterprises in community

Borash, Jennifer. "Spring Prairie Dairy Heart of the Hutterite Colony." Dairy Star, 2 February 2009.

HAWLEY, Minn. - Sitting just six miles west of Hawley, Minn. - 25 miles east of Fargo, N.D. - is

Spring Prairie Dairy’s 300-cow milking herd is housed in a freestall facility. Cow comfort is a priority. Each stall is lined with a rubber mat and bedded with chopped straw. The barn is also kept well-ventilated. A computer-controlled system keeps the barn above 35 degrees in winter, with fans and sprinklers keeping the cows cool in summer. (photo by Jennifer Borash)

Spring Prairie Colony, a Hutterite colony consisting of approximately 150 people from 27 families.

Held together by their strong religious beliefs, the Hutterites are a self-sufficient people, living a completely communal lifestyle within the bounds of the colony.

Spring Prairie Dairy is located at the heart of Spring Prairie Colony. With 300 milking Holsteins, it is run in much the same way as most large dairy operations.

With five full-time employees, a few part-time employees and some help from younger kids after school, the Spring Prairie Dairy herd is milked twice each day in a double-18 parallel parlor with automatic take-off units. The milk produced at Spring Prairie Dairy is sold to AMPI in Fargo, N.D. The rolling herd average is 22,580 with 3.8 percent fat and 3.0 percent protein. The herd is housed in a freestall barn connected to the parlor. Chopped straw over rubber mats is used as bedding.

"Cow comfort is a top priority at Spring Prairie Dairy," John Waldner, Jr., the dairy manager of Spring Prairie Dairy, said.

All of the cows - transition cows as well as milking cows - are on rubber mats. The freestall and

John Waldner, Jr., is the dairy manager of Spring Prairie Dairy. He attributed the success of the dairy to teamwork between the employees, nutritionists, consultants and veterinarians, and to using technology to its fullest. (photo by Jennifer Borash)

transition cow facilities are also kept well-ventilated throughout the year. Waldner said in winter, ventilation is on a computer-controlled power system, keeping the temperature from getting below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. In summer, the barns are naturally ventilated. The fans kick on when the barns reach 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with sprinklers turning on at 80o F.

Genetics are another priority at Spring Prairie Dairy. Nearly 100 percent of their breeding is done by A.I. Just recently, Waldner said, they have been getting into the registered end of dairying.

The rations fed at Spring Prairie Dairy consist of corn silage, haylage and alfalfa hay, along with corn and a soybean and distillers grain protein blend.

"The foundation of our dairy - of any dairy - is forage quality and genetics," Waldner said. "They are like an engine and gas - the rest is built on them. Or like a chain link. Some of the links may seem small, but if broken, the whole chain will come apart."

All of the feed for Spring Prairie Dairy is raised on-site. The colony owns a 5,000-acre plot on which the colony sits. Waldner said they rotate their crops, raising corn, wheat, soybeans, canola and alfalfa.

"Usually we are able to grow what we need," he said. "Some years there is some left for cash crops."

Waldner said all of their heifer calves are raised as replacements, and the bull calves are usually sold when they reach 500 pounds, with some being sold for breeding. Calves are fed pasteurized colostrum for the first feedings and are then switched to milk replacer. Waldner said a big factor in their decision to feed pasteurized colostrum was the risk of spreading disease through feeding raw colostrum.

"We have been on the Johnes program for 15 years now," Waldner said. "We have tried to eradicate both Johnes and Leukosis, both of which are reduced through pasteurization."

The transition cows and calves are housed in the old dairy barn - originally built in 1980 as an 80-cow tie stall barn with a parlor added in 1990. After building the new parlor and freestall facility eight years ago, the old parlor was converted into seven maternity pens. The ties from the tie stalls were removed, allowing it to serve as a freestall facility, with dry cows on one end and close-up cows on the other end.

The calves are also raised within the old barn - in a separate area consisting of seven wards, with each ward containing 10 individual calf pens. The calves are grouped within the wards by age and stay there for seven weeks. They are then moved across the colony to the heifer barns with bedding packs, where they remain in age groups and are progressively moved through the barns as new groups are brought in.

Waldner attributed the success and sustainability of Spring Prairie Dairy to good teamwork - working with nutritionists, consultants and veterinarians from outside the colony - and the use of technology.

"A good record-keeping and activity system is very important," Waldner said. "We take the resources that are available out there to become more efficient."

The Hutterian way of life

"[Hutterites] stand from the reformation era [of the 16th century]," Waldner said - referring to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century when several reformers sought to seclude themselves from the established churches and return to an Apostolic church.

Three of these groups became known as the Amish, the Mennonites and the Hutterites.

"Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites are, as far as their basic religion, similar," Waldner said.

However, these three religious groups do differ in several other aspects.

Two the main factors that set the Hutterites apart from the Amish and the Mennonites, Waldner said, are their lifestyles and their views on technology. Although all three separate themselves from modern society and live in groups amongst themselves, the Hutterites live a total communal lifestyle - meaning they live, eat, worship and work together in colonies and do not own things individually.

"It is a community effort. No one owns more than the next," Waldner said. "Everything [is owned by the colony] and falls under the same financial umbrella."

Waldner said the Mennonites and the Amish live in smaller family groups and do not live a communal lifestyle.

"Hutterites have the system down," he said. "We live as a system and hold together as a church."

The use of technology is another difference. On this subject, the Hutterites and the Mennonites are actually very much alike, in that they use technology to its fullest. The Amish, however, use little to no modernized technology.

"They (the Amish) shy away from technology," Waldner said. "We embrace it...We take everything modern technology has to offer."

The Spring Prairie Hutterite Colony - which was started in 1978 - is a typical colony consisting of several different enterprises all located on site.

"[Colonies] are not all the same," Waldner said, referring to the enterprises within different colonies. "Here we have a farrow-to-finish hog barn, a turkey barn, a small meat shop, an electrical shop, a printing shop, and a farm - dairy as well as crops."

The Spring Prairie Colony also has on-site apartment-type housing and a church, as well as a school, although Waldner said the school is under local authority.

Although each enterprise is managed separately, one general manager overseas them all. Also, although each enterprise works individually, they draw resources from each other when needed. The income and expenses from each enterprise are pooled together for the entire colony.

"The whole complex goes together," Waldner said. "Financially everything comes together under the financial manager's jurisdiction."

Who works within each enterprise in the colony is decided by the colony's membership - usually married men - and is generally assigned based on an individual's talents or areas of interest. Younger members of the colony are assigned wherever they are needed and often shift from one job to the next.

"We operate like any other corporation does," Waldner said. "We have an executive board of six members who make the minor decisions. The whole membership votes on the major decisions."

This organization not only holds for the colony itself, but for the individual enterprises as well.

Although the Hutterian lifestyle is a stark contrast to the fast-paced, modern society of the twenty-first century, to this day more than 450 Hutterite colonies thrive throughout southwestern Canada (Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Colombia) and across the plains of Montana, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Reprinted with permission of the Dairy Star.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller