WDE Virtual Tours: Scheps Dairy



Ken and Debbie Scheps and Ken’s brother Dan (left) operate Scheps Dairy Inc., at Almena, Wis. They will be featured as part of the World Dairy Expo virtual farm tour program on Saturday, Oct. 5.










It’s no coincidence the Scheps’ approach leads to impressive numbers. The herd currently tests at 32,166 lbs. milk, 1,294 lbs. fat, 1,033 lbs. protein and a somatic cell count of  121,000 cells/milliliter.





Scheps Dairy Inc. manages change while Initiating progress

For a schedule of World Dairy Expo Virtual Tours and brief profiles of the featured dairies, click here.

Story and photos by Mandy Brazil

Efficiency is a top priority at Scheps Dairy, where Ken, Debbie and Dan Scheps have combined progressive management and a focus on cow comfort, nutrition, herd health and milk production. There’s nothing ‘virtual’ about their results.

Misfortune in an industry already struggling with financial volatility can put harsh strain on an operation, and sometimes mean the end of a dairying legacy. However, sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise, leading to unrealized opportunity. This was the situation for Scheps Dairy, Inc., Almena, Wis.

In the summer of 2006, the Scheps family was a victim of fire in their fresh-cow barn. The bad luck could have turned the family away from the dairy industry, but instead led to positive changes, eventually leading to a Wisconsin Top Ten Production Herd ranking in 2012.

Ken and Debbie Scheps’ original farm was a traditional small-scale, Midwest dairy with 120 cows. In 1999, they partnered with Ken’s brother, Dan, increasing to their current 930 cows and building a double-12 parallel parlor. They considered adding a transition cow barn, but were hesitant to take on a large financial investment so soon after expansion.

“I thought when we built the parlor, we were done,” Debbie said.

However, the fire forced them to not only recreate a place to milk fresh cows, but also reevaluate their transition cow management. The Scheps agree building a special-needs barn is one of the best decisions they’ve made.

With the old barn located across the road, transition cows were not getting adequate attention.

“We calved them in a group pen of 40 cows,” Dan said.

“And, we were always moving them,” added Debbie, who noted the constant movements added to cow stress.

“I think that was one of the worst things we could do, but it was really the only thing we could do,” Dan said.

“They were also getting fed outside,” said Ken. This created problems with providing consistent and quality rations for close-up and fresh cows. “In the winter, when it got nasty, there would be days intakes got messed up.”

Looking back, they know many of the herd’s health problems were associated with cows off-feed immediately prior to calving.

The new barn gives them the ability to watch over transition animals more closely, provide a more consistent ration, reduce movements and increase general cow comfort with sprinklers and fans. Stalls are bedded once a week with sand, and groomed twice a week, creating a fresher, more uniform stall.

“Overall, health of the animals after calving has been better,” Ken said. “We have had less ketosis, less RPs and less DAs. We had a big saving of drug cost.”

Other benefits included time savings by reducing metabolic disorder treatments, and capturing previously lost milk due to poorly transitioning cows. The rolling herd average increased by 7,000 lbs. of milk since utilizing the new barn.

“What would you take, a 26,000- or 32,000-lb. herd average? If I could do it all over again, I would have walked away from the old stanchion barn and invested in the special-needs barn right away,” Ken said.

Consistent management

In addition to improving cow comfort to boost herd performance, the Scheps family emphasizes consistent, detail-oriented and attentive management.

“Consistency is key – from milking time to feeding to everything you do with cows,” Dan said.

They identify feeding protocol as an important area for consistency.

“If (our feeder) was not as consistent and conscientious as he is, it could affect everything,” said Dan.

Incorporating technology

The Scheps have taken an aggressive approach to business management, and believe in taking advantage of today’s technologies. They are on monthly milk test, and utilize business consultants to analyze financial results and guide business decisions.

They utilize computer software to fine-tune rations and monitor intakes, and are in the process of installing a truck scale to link information about feed deliveries, automatically updating feed inventories. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags track daily milk weights, while protecting milk quality.

“With the RFID tags and readers for each individual stall, we get much more accurate identification per animal,” Ken said.“It helps us check cows and identify sick cows more quickly.”

Daily milk weights also put the “why” in protocols, because employees can tell their efforts make a difference.

“We would have monthly meetings with the employees and let them know how we wanted the cows milked,” Debbie said. “I, to this day, do not want anyone else milking my cows.”

The Scheps use several other business management tools to keep track of details. A personalized milk marketing model, updated daily with milk prices, also incorporates the dairy’s financial information.

“We have it updated relevant to our own operation; we can know what we lock in for profits,” Ken said.

It’s no coincidence their approach leads to impressive numbers. The herd currently tests at 32,166 lbs. milk, 1,294 lbs. fat, 1,033 lbs. protein and a somatic cell count of  121,000 cells/milliliter.

“It is the pounds of milk that leave the driveway that pay the bills,” Dan said. “You have so many fixed costs on a day-to-day basis; you have to maximize production to overcome those.”

Debbie said the benefits show up on the bottom line, and in lifestyle.

“You are so much more efficient with technology that you do have time to spend with your family. It is not just having a life, but making one too,” she concluded.

• Dan Scheps danscheps@hotmail.com

• Ken Scheps kenscheps@hotmail.com