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Grooming the future

Andy Rynsburger always knew he'd follow in his family's dairy tradition. “I enjoy being around cows and working outside,” he says. “There's always a new challenge, and I like that.”

Andy, 53, wife Victoria, and their two sons, Drew and Evrhett, operate a 2,200-cow dairy in the San Joaquin Valley, near Strathmore, California.

They grow forage crops, alfalfa for silage and hay, and wheat and corn for silage on about 970 acres.

Andy's grandfather, Arie, immigrated from Holland. After returning to fight for the Dutch army in World War I, Arie came back to California, where he rented 20 acres and milked a herd of 15 cows.

Andy's dad, Thomas, 87, says his parents raised 200 chickens and his job was selling eggs. “That kind of agriculture has completely disappeared here, along with hogs,” Thomas says.

In 1950, Thomas and his wife, Adele, took over the farm near Artesia. In 1968, they relocated to Chino. Andy graduated from high school in 1976 and spent two years at Cal Poly studying dairy science.

By 1989, the Rynsburgers relocated to Strathmore, where Andy's sister, Jodi and her husband Craig Bowser were farming. Andy and Thomas expanded to 800 acres and the dairy grew to 1,100 cows.

“A lot of the time, opportunity is disguised as hard work,” Thomas says. Andy agrees. “I learned integrity and a work ethic from my dad,” he says.

Farm and herd evolves

In 2005, Thomas Rynsburger phased out of a crop partnership with the Bowsers, who farm 539 acres of walnuts, almonds, pecans, mandarin oranges, black-eyed peas, alfalfa, and row crops.

The Bowsers continue to play a role in caring for the heifers, beginning at 6 months and feeding them to 22 months.

Tom retains an active interest in the farm. “One of the biggest changes I've seen in the dairy business is that purchasing feed is much more difficult,” he says.

Today's dairy rations include a range of ingredients – from orange peels to almond hulls – with most of the feedstuff derived from by-products and coproducts.

In 2004, the Rynsburgers built a 900-cow free stall.

Tools for the future

Farming methods also have been retooled. “In 2004, we changed to 30-inch corn rows, increasing population to 32,000 to 33,000 plants per acre,” Andy says. “Tillage turned to strip-till. Since we started in 2008, it's cut costs and time.”

Through the years, the Rynsburgers added employees, along with a bigger line of equipment. In 2006, they also made the decision to hire John Martin to handle crop management.

“We started planting Mycogen brown mid-rib corn hybrids four years ago,” Andy says. “Although there have been some problems with mites and increased lodging, we've seen improved digestibility and 2% to 3% more milk production per cow.” The Rynsburgers have a rolling herd average of 24,000 pounds.

Drew, 25, has been working in different areas of the operation and completing an ag business degree. “He takes over the dairy every other weekend,” Andy says.

Evrhett, 16, is in high school. Andy and Victoria also have two daughters, Brittany, 27, and Dimitrae, 23.

The farm is located between the cities of Tulare and Porterville. “The San Joaquin Valley is a very diverse and dynamic region,” Andy says. “Some areas are very rural, and other parts are much more urban.”

Looking to the future, Andy says, “I'd like to give my kids the same opportunities I had. I realize there'll be a lot of changes coming in the next 10 to 15 years. I hope to offer guidance and the tools they'll need to achieve success.”

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