Rupert, Idaho — Steve Whitesides went into dairying after graduating from high school.
“I didn’t go to college,” he says. “I went to the school of hard knocks.”
He first worked for a dairyman, then leased 10 cows from him. Then he leased a flat barn and milked 30 cows.
In 1983 he leased another facility, milking 120 cows.
“Then I just did farming for a year and sold my cows,” he says. During that time he built a dairy barn and went into partners with his brother on 400 acres.
“With that facility we got up to 700 cows, and then built another barn and took it up to 1,500 cows,” he says.
They established a third facility at the same location, and put on another 2,500 cows.
“My brother retired 8 years ago, and his son became my partner. We purchased more land and now grow most of our own feed,” he says. They grow barley, corn and alfalfa.
The farm and dairy operations employ more than 100 people. The cows are milked three times a day.
“Everything is computerized, including ID for the cows. They all have a transponder in their ear,” Whitesides says. Feed is tailored to match what each group of cows’ needs, nutritionally.
“Feed is transported out of a commodity area and the computer tells what to load in the mixing box, and tells the employee where to deliver it — to which pen of cows.”
There is no feed in the milk barns today. Cows are only in there a short time being milked and do all their eating in their pen between milkings.
Cows are grouped in pens based on their production and where they are in their gestation and lactation cycle. Each group gets a certain mix and amount of feed.
“We meet with a nutritionist weekly to figure out the ration for each pen of cows,” he explains.
This dairy has a heifer feedlot, raising future cows. The cows and heifers are all bred using artificial insemination.
“Currently we are raising 750 heifer calves on bottled milk,” says Whitesides. They are on bottles from one day old until 2 months of age.
“Then they are grouped into pens of 10 head per pen. At 4 months of age, the heifers are transported to our feedlot, where they are in large open pens, and raised to 23 months of age. They come back to the dairy to calve and go into our milking system,” he says.
“The cows are calving year round. We generally have 10 to 50 calves born each day. We raise all the heifer calves, and the steers are sold as day-old calves. We feed them colostrum and then they are picked up by calf growers,” he explains.
The dairy delivers 68,000 gallons of milk per day, marketed through Dairy Farmers of America.
“Most of the milk goes to Brewsters (a cheese processing plant at Rupert). They package cheese for Kelloggs cheese and crackers and other cheese products,” he says. “Some of our milk goes to Chobani.”
Whitesides’ 29-year-old son, Derrek, plans to come into the business.
“He’s just married and starting a family. My son-in-law, Richard, helps manage the farm, and a nephew and other family members work here,” he says. “Even though it’s large, this is still a family farm.”
“The dairy farm is a lot of work but it’s still a good way to raise a family,” he ays. “I have five children. One daughter lives in Denver, one daughter and her husband work with us on the dairy, and I have another son who is recently married and working nearby. Another son is still in college, but he may eventually find a spot here, too.”
Dairying since: 1978
Location: Near Rupert, Idaho
Family: Steve Whitesides and nephew Brandon Whitesides
Size: 8,000 acres of farm ground
Herd: Milking 6,500 cows, 14,000 total
Cooperative: Dairy Farmers of America