Stensland speaks about organic dairy farming

DOUG STENSLAND (left), a Larchwood, Iowa, dairy farmer, describes his family's dairy and creamery operation during a Thursday organic farming seminar held in Orland Township. About 28 persons interested in organic farming operations gathered at St. Peter of the Prairie for presentations and tours hosted by the Johnson family.

An Iowa dairy farmer whose family stocks some of the ice cream for two Madison retail stores spoke about his organic farming operation during a Thursday seminar held in Lake County.

Doug Stensland of Larchwood, Iowa, gave a presentation about Stensland Family Farms, a four-generation organic farming operation, during a gathering held at Johnson Farms in Orland Township. The Stensland farm has grown from a farm homesteaded in 1915 by Tobias Stensland to a dairy farm with 200-plus head of cattle and a creamery today. Arthur Stensland started the dairy operation in 1952 with 12 cows.

Doug Stensland spoke to about 28 men and women who attended the organic farming seminar hosted by the Johnson family at St. Peter on the Prairie.

Stensland said he and his youngest son are the family members who principally oversee the dairy operation. In 1989, Arthur retired and sold his dairy equipment, but in 2004, brothers Jason and Justin Stensland decided to start milking cows again. Doug Stensland said the brothers' operation grew to 200 milking cows, two hired men and the dairy crew working 10-hour days, seven days a week.

Family members began discussing a switch to a robotic milking operation to reduce the labor involved. They planned a trip to the eastern United States to look at robotic-milking operations, and Doug Stensland said he went along. The Stenslands went east "to look at robots" and Doug said he liked what he saw.

The Stensland dairy farm currently uses three robotic milkers for a system that allows the cows to be milked around the clock. The dairy cows are coaxed into the milking stalls through their own desire for feed, particularly eating a molasses-flavored feed the animals eat while they are milked.

Each of the dairy cows wears a collar that identifies the animal, and computers monitor each animal's characteristics and output. Stensland said the collars monitor the dairy cows' activity, such as cud chewing. Animal temperatures and weights are measured and recorded.

According to Stensland, those measurements and each animal's records can provide indications whether an animal is healthy or not. He said the information helps them "catch things early" before a dairy cow becomes seriously ill.

Stensland said he and his wife were interested in starting a creamery operation, and family began talking in 2009 about starting such an operation. In 2015, they broke ground on a creamery project.

Today, the Stensland Creamery produces ice cream, flavored milk, hard cheeses and cheese curds. Stensland said the family operates three retail locations in Sioux Falls and operates ice-cream stands at Falls Park in Sioux Falls and a Sioux Falls aquatic center. The family also supplies dairy products to about 140 vendors, including Madison's Sunshine Foods and Lewis Drug.

The Stensland family farms 1,500 acres of organic cropland that provides all of the forage its dairy cows eat. Doug Stensland said his organic crop rotation is similar to the Johnson family's, except for a wider use of cover crops such as winter rye, clover and radishes.