The Elzinga Family

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Nate and Jenny Elzinga are the Secretary Couple for the 2018 YC Advisory Council and members of Michigan Milk Producers Association. They operate Daybreak Dairy, located in Zeeland, Western Michigan. Currently, Nate and Jenny live on the farm with five kids – Madison (9), Henry (8), Evalyn (6), Abel (3) and Olive (6 months). They milk 230 registered Holsteins and raise all the young stock in partnership with Nate’s dad Daniel – who bought the farm in 1976 – and his brother Paul. The farm has five full-time employees and some part-time labor that helps milk the cows three times per day and crop 350 acres. 

What do you like the most – and the least – about working as a dairy farmer?

What Jenny and I love the most about dairy farming is raising our family here and teaching them this way of life: The hard work, the satisfaction of caring for the animals and land, and working hard to be able to call something your own. Jenny and I are passionate about cows and the dairy products we get to say we are responsible for bringing to the consumer.

What we like the least is probably in line with what every other dairy farmer would say: Times when it’s hard or impossible to make money, and issues that arise to most farmers, whether it’s labor challenges or times of transition.

Describe how the work on the farm is shared or divided up in your family?

I’m responsible for most of the cow work. I do the farm’s nutrition, reproduction management, health management, employee management and calving. I also do most of the feeding and breeding. My wife and I work very closely, and I’m happy she can fill in for me for any of those responsibilities – besides taking care of our kids (she’s definitely my better half). Besides that, she manages the calves in our auto-feeder barn.

My dad does most of the book work, helps in the field and wherever else he’s needed as he looks forward to retirement. My brother is responsible for crops and maintenance, and helps with feeding. Our employees take care of milking and scraping, and do some of the feeding. We are in the process of developing new skills related to cow care, including vaccines and treatments, field work and breeding.

How do you think your farm’s business plan will change 10 years from now?

Although things are always changing, I can say with confidence that while working over the next 10 years to buy out my dad and then my brother, my goal is to lower our operating cost per production unit and improve the work environment and pay for our employees.

During those days when things aren’t going well, what do you do to keep a positive attitude?

I like to think I’m pretty positive as it is, but this is where my wife and kids come in. My wife and I work hard to cheer each other up when things get rough. Sometimes it’s me bringing her out of that dark cloud and sometimes it’s her. The kids help tremendously, as well. In all of this, we give glory to God and all of His blessings by remembering that He controls all things.

What would you be doing if you were not a dairy farmer?

Dairy farming is truly my passion, so if it came to it and I wasn’t farming myself, I would probably stay in the industry and find a job related to cows through nutrition or farm management. My wife says she would go back to work as a veterinary technician.