Use Soft Science to Manage
Fifth-generation farmers John and Nettie Rosenow met as college students. After graduating in 1972, they married and returned to the Rosenow family farm nestled in the scenic Mississippi River bluffs near Cochrane, Wisconsin.
They set to work to grow the dairy operation and to improve the management of the business. Before long, they bought half of the farm and doubled the size of their registered Holstein milking herd from 50 to 100 cows. In 1980, John’s brother, Paul, joined the operation.
“There were many very lean years of poor milk prices, but we concentrated on increasing production,” Nettie says. “I believe strongly in breeding the best cattle possible.”
After their barn was destroyed by fire in 1989, they built a Germania double 9 herringbone milking facility and expanded to 300 cows. In 1997, the Rosenows formed an LLC with dairy farmer Loren Wolfe, expanding to 550 cows. Paul left the operation in 2001, and Loren retired recently. Now it’s back to John and Nettie and their workforce of 20 employees.
“We milk 24 hours a day,” John says. “The lights never shut off here, unless there’s a power outage.”
Nettie is in charge of the cows, including production for the 550-head milking herd. “She’s been working with the cows for 42 years, since shortly after we were married,” John says. Nettie adds, “Until this year, I bred all the cattle on the farm, but we now hire an inseminator to help once a week.”
John handles employee paperwork, sales and financial management, and human relations (HR). “HR has been a baptism by fire,” he says. “It’s partly scientific fact and partly compassion. I judge how good a job I’m doing by employee turnover and quality and whether we make money or not.”
Nothing to waste
In the 1980s, they began buying sawdust for bedding from the Ashley Furniture factory in nearby Arcadia. In 1990, they developed a product called Cowsmo Compost, a landscape mulch and soil enhancer. After the manure and waste bedding are flushed from barns, they separate solids and liquids. The liquids are stored for use on the crops. The solids are built into windrows and composted with sawdust bedding, according to National Organic Practices standards.
“We added potting mixes in 2006,” John says. They ship to garden centers and distributors in the Twin Cities. “We sell some back to the people who made the sawdust,” John says.
John’s employee management philosophy is inspired by the work of W. Edwards Deming (blog.deming.org/ 2013/04/demings-14-points-for-management/).
“I’ve always been intrigued by it,” John says. “It works well for American and Mexican cultures.”
One of Deming’s principles, #8, is to remove fear from the workplace. “I’ve never fired anyone in 25 years,” John says. “We do a lot of training.”
He adds, “I try to have one more employee than I need. Everyone has certain abilities and limits. My job is to identify them. I allow employees to work to their potential. I don’t make them be someone they’re not.”
The compost business is thriving. “A few years ago, we made a decision to grow the compost business and not to expand cows,” Nettie says. “It was the right choice. Our compost products allow us to attract young, smart, energetic persons to our business. Our hope is that the farm continues as a dairy."