Pine Tree Dairy keeps things simple

Matt Steiner offers four keys to his success

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Matt Steiner and family
Matthew Jr., Matt, Joanna, Hannah and Nathan Steiner make up just a fraction of the Steiner family. With 11 children and 32 grandchildren, Matt has turned the day-to-day operations of Pine Tree Dairy over to his seven sons, who each have their own unique roles on the farm. (Catie Noyes photos)

MARSHALLVILLE, Ohio — ”If you take care of the cows, they will take care of you,” said Matt Steiner.

That has been the mantra at Pine Tree Dairy, headquartered in Wayne County, Ohio, and it has served them well over the years.

“That was passed on from my grandfather, to my father, to me, and now to my boys,” he said. “We keep things simple around here,” added Steiner.

Pine Tree Dairy cows
Pine Tree Dairy, in Marshallville, Ohio, milks 650 cows and has a rolling herd average of 28,000 pounds milk, 4.4 percent butterfat and 3.2 percent protein.

Four keys to success

Steiner said there are only four important components to being a successful dairy farmer, and it doesn’t revolve around the breed of cow you raise or the brand of tractor you drive.

The first is having quality feed and forage.  “You have to have highly digestible forages,” said Steiner. The Steiner herd is currently on a diet of 65 percent forage, which is the highest it’s ever been. Pine Tree Dairy also supplies 50 percent of its grain, farming 1,500 acres of corn, wheat and hay.

The second component is workable genetics.  “If you are in a certain market, you need to breed for that market,” said Steiner. He feels it doesn’t matter which color or breed of cow it is, it just has to be a good cow.

The Steiners test their heifers and bulls within a week after birth to determine which heifers and bulls will be used for breeding, which heifers to use as donors and which bulls to sell. “With genomics today, we can get the traits we want three to four times faster,” said Steiner. “We want cows that breed easy, calve easy and last a long time.”

The third important factor is cow comfort.  “This doesn’t mean you have to have the fanciest barn,” said Steiner. But the cows have to be comfortable and in a low stress environment.

When the Steiners completed their new dairy facility in 2011, the freestalls were bedded with sand for maximum cow comfort. Milking systems also have to be updated accordingly, so the Steiners put in a double-20 parallel parlor to accommodate the expanded herd.

And the final component to a successful dairy is having someone who can think like a cow, explained Steiner.  “You need somebody who can look at the cow and know what she needs,” he said.

When asked, who fills this role on the farm, Steiner replied that each of his seven sons have the ability to “think like a cow.”

Family roles

Pine Tree Dairy IVF
Ethan Steiner assists Ron Kling, of Trans Ova Genetics of Boonsboro, Maryland, with an in vitro fertilization procedure at Pine Tree Dairy in Marshallville, Ohio. Every two weeks Kling makes the trip to Pine Tree Dairy to breed the Steiner’s cows as well as others in the area.

Now retired at 65, Steiner still oversees the daily operations of the family farm, but he leaves most of the management to his sons.

Nate Steiner, 42, serves as the family veterinarian and runs a small practice, Fulton Road Genetics. “When I was in fifth grade I remember going to a job fair,” said Nate. “I decided I wanted to do three things: embryo transfer, be a veterinarian and be a farmer.

Joel, 41, runs the machinery, keeps up with building maintenance and manages the crops. Luke, 38, manages the 200-head organic dairy operation in Ashland and handles the feeding program at the Marshallville facility.

Aaron, 35, has a small dairy of his own in Burbank, but still farms with the family.  Andrew, 32, is a full-time school teacher, but helps around the farm. Ethan, 32 and twin to Andrew, heads up the office management and handles the marketing and communication for the genetics program.

Matthew Jr., 28, is the herd manager and assists with breeding and genetics. Helping his brother out with the breeding program sparked an interest in genetics for him. “It’s a lot to learn, and I enjoy learning new things,” he said.

Steiner said he also has a son-in-law who assists Joel with field work, crop management and mechanics. To round out the family are four daughters and 32 grandchildren.

Pine Tree Dairy farm
The Marshallville facility was completed in 2011 and can house up to 675 head. Stalls were bedded with sand and a sand lane flush system was installed.

Timeline

Pine Tree Dairy has been in the family since the early 1800s, when Steiner’s great-grandfather, Levi, began milking on the home farm just a few miles north of the Marshallville facility.

The family was milking around 25 head of purebred Holsteins when Levi’s son, Ezra, took over the dairy in 1919. The farm was passed onto the next generation — Steiner’s father, Alvin — in 1946

When Steiner graduated high school, in 1970, he started farming full time, milking around 45 head of Holsteins. His sons showed their own interest in running the farm in the early ’90s.

In 1993, Steiner’s oldest sons decided to expand the herd, but the home farm would not be large enough to accommodate more cows, so they rented an uncle’s farm. The family built a new parlor and freestall barn back at the home farm in 1997, expanded the herd to around 300 milk cows, and moved all the cows back to the home farm.

In 2008, the Steiner’s rented a facility in Holmes County where they milked an additional 250 cows, and in 2011, the Marshallville facility was complete with two freestall barns, housing up to 675-head. All the milk cows were moved to this main facility.

In 2002, a side venture was purchased in Ashland, Ohio, where Steiner’s son Luke manages a 200-head organic dairy. Milking began at a 250-cow Jersey herd in Spencer, Medina County, Ohio, in 2016.

Conservation efforts

Matt Steiner, Pine Tree Dairy
Matt Steiner, fourth generation dairy farmer at Pine Tree Dairy, said stewardship of the land is important to him. Because of his family’s efforts, Pine Tree Dairy received this year’s Conservation Farm Award from Wayne SWCD.

Pine Tree Dairy was recognized by the Wayne SWCD as the 2017 Conservation Farm of the year during its 70th anniversary banquet Nov. 16.

Some of their conservation efforts include the completion of two, 2 million gallon manure storage pits and a 6 million gallon liquid manure pit in 2011. They use of a sand lane flush system to recycle sand bedding and their use of cover crops.

Almost all of the acreage used for corn silage is replanted with a cover crop after harvest. “I think we need to have something on it.”

Steiner said it’s important to be good stewards and take care of the land just as his father and grandfather did before him.

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.

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