Somewhere along the road I read a short article about Riverview Dairy that was milking cows on a number of farms in the upper Midwest. 
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The big operation is based in Minnesota which surprised me because there was a time not many years ago when that state was strongly opposed to mega size dairy herds.

So, I did some computer research and was a bit surprised in what I learned.

From Iowa

According to the family story, Paul and Anna Fehr came to the Morris, Minnesota, region from West Bend, Iowa, in 1939. They had five daughters and three sons, including Lloyd and Paul Jr., who both were involved in the farming operation. The Fehrs raised beef cattle and crops and incorporated as Riverview Farms in 1976.

In this 2015 photo, an employee feeds a calf at Riverview Farms.

This new company continued farming and raising beef cattle until 1995 when it entered the dairy business with an 800-cow dairy at Morris, Minnesota. The company’s business structure also changed to a partnership at that time which allowed several community members to invest in the new dairy, complete with a double-24 parallel parlor. Over the following years, the vision of an adaptable, integrated agricultural operation continued to grow as more dairy operations, beef feedlots, agronomy systems, and construction crews were added.

Thousands of plastic shelters for calves, called “calf huts,” spread out in rows at the new Turkey Creek Dairy. Riverview grows crops to feed the cattle at its dairies near Willcox, using groundwater to irrigate fields.

In Arizona

Back in 2019, the Arizona Republic reported that Riverview LLP bought the Faria Dairy in late 2014 on Kansas Settlement Road south of Willcox, Arizona.

The company, known locally as Coronado Farms, keeps 75,000 animals at its existing dairy and is in the midst of a massive expansion to the south and east. The new operation, called Turkey Creek Dairy, has plans for 75,000 more cattle, Riverview’s spokesman Kevin Wulf told the newspaper.

The company grows most of the food for the cattle on its properties, using a rotating mix of silage corn, wheat, and alfalfa. The crops are watered by about 200 center-pivot irrigation systems, which create giant green circles that stand out in sharp contrast against the surrounding dry ground.

Riverview now owns more than 37,000 acres in Willcox, according to a Republic review of property records. It’s by far the biggest farm in the area, and is Riverview’s biggest in the five states where it operates.

The new Turkey Creek Dairy is stunningly vast, with cattle yards and 14,000 white plastic shelters for calves. The “calf huts” resemble large dog houses and spread across the desert in straight rows longer than football fields. The calves stay in the huts for 90 days so they don’t pick up diseases, and then they are moved into larger groups, Wulf said.

There are about 75,000 animals at the existing Coronado Farms dairy near Willcox, and the company Riverview is in the midst of an expansion.

A different way

When Riverview Dairy was built, the Fehr family decided to move away from the family farm business structure. They created a partnership and invited 25 outside investors including family, friends and neighbors. The business model worked well for them.

Today, Riverview has over 300 investors with 70% being company employees. The company now includes over a dozen dairies and nearly 100,000 cows in Minnesota, South Dakota and Arizona.

Employees load calves onto a truck at Riverview Farms.

Another a’building

Riverview Dairy is also midway through constructing a 10,500-head dairy near Gary, in northwest Minnesota. This new operation – Waukon Dairy – will milk Jerseys in a 106-stall rotary parlor.

Riverview also recently built a 10,500-head dairy farm in Grace Township located in Chippewa County, Minnesota, about 23 miles west of Willmar, on the south side of Highway 40. Grace Dairy houses Jersey cows in a total-confinement freestall barn. Liquid manure and dairy wastewater will be collected and stored in clay-lined basins with impermeable covers, the draft permit states.

High Tech

Riverview utilizes both rotary and parallel parlors. Each site is a little different from the others, but the activity is the same: milking cows. Each cow produces about eight gallons of milk per day which is sent to processing plants to make cheese.

Proper nutrition and animal care is ensured by utilizing a nutritionist and sophisticated feed technology. All of the cows have electronic identification tags in their ears which provide the dairy with health data.

The company Riverview runs the dairy Coronado Farms on Kansas Settlement Road south of Willcox.

For animal comfort, free-stall housing which allows cows to move about at their leisure is used. Cross ventilation in northern barns keeps the cows cool and comfortable and reduces flies. Finally, pens are cleaned daily and bedding is refreshed to keep the cows clean and dry.

How big

How many dairies and cows will eventually be a part of the Riverview umbrella? Who knows?

Not all planned sites for locating a new mega Riverview dairy work out. Public outcry and environmental issues can sometimes be a stopper. And “big” dairies raise tempers from many directions.

However, Riverview may be a pioneer in what dairying will be like in the future – agree or disagree. The 15-cow Oncken dairy is long gone never to return but dairy cows will still be milking in one way or another. Bet on it.

John Oncken can be reached at 608-572-0747 or jfodairy2@gmail.com 

NEW ZEALAND DAIRY COOPERATIVE FONTERRA WILL RETAIN ITS AUSTRALIAN OPERATIONS, CEO MILES HURRELL ANNOUNCED WHEN RELEASING FY22 RESULTS. THE COOPERATIVE HAD A “GOOD YEAR” DESPITE RISING COSTS DUE TO VOLATILITY IN SUPPLY CHAIN, HURRELL SAID.

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