Good Farm Neighbors have good stories to tell

11-10-2021 in Article

Cinnamon Ridge Farms near Donahue is a Good Farm Neighbor.

John and Joan Maxwell produce high quality milk and beef, sell their award-winning cheese and other products through their on-farm store, partner with Food Rescue Partnership to reduce food waste, support the local FFA, host a summer farm camp for kids and give tours of their robotic milking operation to educate the public about modern livestock production and Iowa farmers. The Maxwells also put a high priority on conservation, and are vocal advocates for cover crop use.

Cinnamon Ridge is the June 2021 winner of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers Good Farm Neighbor Award. The award was presented by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Mike Naig on June 29. Mitch Schulte, Farmer Relations Manager at Midwest Dairy Association, nominated the Maxwell family for the award.

Cinnamon Ridge also earns Good Farm Neighbor status by being the best they can be, showing the world the commitment to excellence U.S. farmers are known for.

The farm has the No. 1 Jersey cow in the nation.

“In 1979, my brother and I set a goal to have the No. 1 Jersey for milk production,” tells John Maxwell. Genomic testing revealed the cow named Bulgaria’s potential. The designation is based on milk produced, protein content and fat content.

In recent years, Cinnamon Ridge has increased milk production in its herd from an average 8,000 lbs. per year per cow to 26,000 lbs. through genetics, and keen attention to animal care and comfort. Seven of the Top 10 Jersey cows in the U.S. reside at Cinnamon Ridge.

“People like to look for a magic bullet,” says Maxwell, “but it is really so many little things. Our cows are kept healthy from birth to grave.” Cows are vaccinated as needed and fed a balanced, performance based, total mix ration.

They live in temperature controlled comfort, reclining on sand with access to cow brushes and ample fresh water. “Clean water is crucial,” says Maxwell. “Milk is 90% water.”

Key to Cinnamon Ridge milk production, and the primary draw for tourists is a completely robotic milking system.

“That’s what draws people in,” says Maxwell, who uses the hook to host tours and special events. More than 60 busloads of visitors come to the farm each year. Cinnamon Ridge also hosts an annual farm-to table dinner and Expo on the Ridge that includes a panel of experts to answer questions and lead discussion on timely ag topics.

Once on the farm, people are fed in the farmhouse, then tour the dairy and other farm highlights. They buy homegrown award-winning cheese, beef, pork, eggs and baked goods in the on farm store The Country Cupboard.

But the robotics aren’t just for show. Maxwell says milk production increased 16% the day they started using the system, along with a significant reduction in labor costs.

The Jersey is one of the oldest dairy breeds, and a solid choice for sustainability. On average, Jersey’s use 32% less water and 11% less land than other, and larger, dairy breeds. Milk produced by Jersey cows has a creamy, smooth and satisfying flavor and contains more protein, calcium, and other vital nutrients than milk from other dairy breeds, producing more pounds of cheese per pound of body weight.

That fits with the Cinnamon Ridge emphasis on conservation.

Cinnamon Ridge, named so for the color of the Jersey cows, is a diversified farm. Along with the dairy, Maxwell has a cow/calf operation of around 50 cows, hogs and chickens, and grows corn, soybeans and rye grass.

When he first began farming, Maxwell quickly identified cover crop usage as a convenient, cost-effective option to feed his growing dairy cattle herd. He has planted cover crops since 1984 and is a strong advocate for the practice.

Using Rye grass as a high-quality, balanced ration for his cattle has cut is annual feed costs nearly in half.

It’s all part of a story Maxwell loves to tell. “What we do here is the cake, the tours are the frosting,” says Maxwell. “Our goal is for people to go away a more informed consumer. We need more of that.”

He does everything he can to ensure guests have an interesting experience, telling the story of the fifth generation to farm here since 1855, the farm conservation practices, the use of technology in today’s farming, the emphasis on animal care, and the award-winning results.

“People are attracted to award winners,” says Maxwell. “That helps us spread the word and get the message out about where food comes from.”

He admits the ag tourism business is a time consuming proposition. “And you have to love to talk to people.”

But he sees advocate opportunity for everyone, even if it is sitting in the bleachers at a ballgame talking about the farm.

“For ag to grow and succeed, everybody needs to do a little something to promote it,” he says. “We’re all in this together.”

The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award is made possible thanks to financial support from the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. This award recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in caring for the environment, their livestock and being good neighbors. It is named in memory of Gary Wergin, a long-time WHO Radio farm broadcaster who helped create the award.

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock successfully and responsibly. It’s a partnership involving the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy. The non-profit, non-partisan organization aids farmers at no cost. CSIF does not lobby or develop policy. Farm families wanting a helping hand can contact the coalition at 800.932.2436.

(By Terri Queck-Matzie for CSIF. Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield).

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