Kraft Family Dairies
Fort Morgan, CO
Everyone at Quail Ridge Dairy and Badger Creek Farm—Chris and Mary Kraft’s dairies in Fort Morgan, Colorado—is in constant motion. For Chris and Mary, that’s creating efficiencies and embracing technology and sustainability measures for their 6,000-animal operation. For the cows, it’s more literal.
“We work really hard to ensure we never stop our cows,” Mary Kraft said. “If you have 800 cows headed into the barn and you stop the front 100, the last 100 won’t get the message and will just squish into the front. So, we designed our whole operation like there are no stop signs, just roundabouts; everything keeps going.”
The Krafts started with a few hundred cows at Badger Creek Farm in 1985, and since then have expanded into a second dairy, Quail Ridge Dairy, and a 1,400-acre crop farm on surrounding land they’ve purchased. The original dairy is now needed for animals with special needs, such as calves and pregnant cows. At any given time they’ll have 1,500-1,800 animals at Badger Creek Farm and another 4,500 at Quail Ridge Dairy. Through each expansion or addition, the Krafts made a pointed effort to focus on flow.
“When we talk about flow, we’re trying to make the cows flow, the people flow, the trucks flow—everything flow—without getting in our cows’ way,” Chris Kraft said. “We have cows with unbelievable genetics and incredible production potential, so our job is to make it as good as we can make it for that animal and then get out of the way and let them have the best chance to do what they were made to do, let them be a cow.”
This “Go with the (carefully curated) flow” philosophy is impossible to miss at Kraft Family Dairies. It starts with their approach to breeding and the genetic makeup of their animals and permeates each animal’s life thereafter.
“We make sure, whenever we can, that we raise calves that never get a stomach upset or pneumonia,” Chris said. “Because a calf that gets pneumonia or has stomach damage is not going to be able to reach that genetic potential that she has in her and that we worked so hard to get. And that is just one example; that idea goes through everything.”
The Krafts embraced technology to help them implement their philosophy. Using Bluetooth tracking devices that act as “animal FitBits,” the Krafts can easily track each animal in their herd. This includes animal welfare—any injuries or infections can be easily marked through the animal’s tracker when spotted by employees—diet and nutritional needs, insemination efforts, and milk production.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Mary said. “We invested in a lot of technology to make sure we can figure out who is doing what, measure their production and track their needs: How well is she doing? Am I feeding her properly?”
Investing in technology has allowed the Krafts to better track what’s happening with individual animals and improve the flow and function of the dairy’s day-to-day activities. The milking parlor was built with air flow in mind, improving ventilation to keep the parlor cool in the summer and comfortable in the winter. In the stall barn, the Krafts use technology to reduce waste—ensuring cows always have access to their nutrient-dense feed without leaving any behind—and to reduce waste—using scrapers that collect manure and keep the barn clean. The newest addition, a methane digester currently under construction, is a further investment in technology that reduces waste.
Using technology like this and developing systems allowed the Krafts to hire more help while maintaining the highest level of quality, Mary said. The Krafts work with their son, Stratton, and currently employ 85 workers.
“We realized that as we got bigger, we were no longer spending as much time with the cows and we had to train and trust other people to care for our business at the same standard we would,” Mary said. “If you give people the right tools for the job, they will do the job. If you don’t give them the right tools, they will figure out a way to get most of the job done so it looks good, which is not the same as quality. The FARM Program has been super helpful for us talking to our employees about what the protocols need to be and getting them written in a form that everyone can do.”
While these investments have worked out well for the Krafts, Mary points out that “almost nothing is plug-and-play on a dairy” and each addition brings a new set of challenges to work through. Learning from their experiences—and those of others in the industry—has primed the Krafts to anticipate the future of dairy and then, ultimately, go with whatever flow the future demands.