From scratch

Written by Christine Bush
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Jim Docheff and his wife, Judy, found a tract of land in Longmont, Colo., 35 years ago and say they knew they wanted to build a life there. The Docheffs bought the land, and as Jim describes the undeveloped property, not even a fence post was sticking out of the ground. The couple began to methodically build their farm in what is now Dairy Farmers of America’s Mountain Area. Year after year, they added buildings, cows, crops and children. The couple raised five boys and, as a family, they operate a dairy with a herd of 1,150 Holsteins; milking in a double-16 parallel parlor, farming 120 acres, managing 13 hired hands and continuing to add to their operation.

Today, Jim works side by side with three of his sons, Joe, Justin and Jay, and two of his grandsons, Joe Jr., and Chisum. The grandsons are the Docheff family’s fifth generation of farmers.

The Docheff dairying story began when Jim’s grandfather, Gino, started milking cows in 1934 in Broomfield, Colo. At the time, Gino was the ninth dairy producer to join Denver Milk Producer’s Cooperative.

Jim’s dad, Metro, took over the Broomfield farm and that’s where Jim started milking cows at the age of six. Jim recalls that his dad had to work off of the farm in the winter to provide for the family, so he chipped in and helped milk the family’s 15 cows.

“I remember in the summer time, we used a milk machine,” Jim says. “But not in the winter, we milked by hand. Not only did milking by hand save electricity, but we kept warm because we were by the cows.”

Jim grew up watching his father’s and grandfather’s dedication and common sense approach of doing things. That laid the groundwork for Jim’s plan to manage his own dairy and expand it at a slow and steady pace.

After buying the Longmont land, it took Jim three years to get the operation up and running. He began by building a machine shed, then a house and then adding the dairy barn. He started his dairy business with 35 cows.

“I used to help milk,” Judy says. “But that’s why I had five boys.”

The Docheffs’ oldest son, Jim Jr., left the farm to start his own operation and another son, John, raises registered Angus at his own place. On the family farm, Joe oversees feed procurement while Justin and Jay specialize in cow management. Grandson Chisum handles the hoof trimming and Joe Jr. helps with feeding and handles all of the mechanical work.

The Docheffs house 13 employees on the property, but they keep the management of the cow’s health within the family. Jim and his sons tend to all of the breeding and feeding and attribute their healthy herd to attention to detail. Jim says out of the 1,150 in his herd, only two cows have mastitis and his cull rate of 25 percent is lower than the national average of 30 percent.

Jim says that he likes to manage all aspects of his operation, which is one reason the family raises all of their own heifers.

“Everything is raised and bred on the farm,” Jim says. “We have what I consider a closed herd. We don’t buy outside heifers or replacements. We raise all of our own replacements.”

Like most dairy farmers, Jim and his family remember 2009 and 2010 as tough years. Milk prices dropped and feed prices soared, yet the Docheffs weathered the bad times through good business practices, Jim says.

“We have no secrets in this business,” he says. “We all get the same price for milk, according to location. We have the same expenses and feed costs. It’s not just a way of life anymore. It’s a business.”

Jim and his family also rebounded from an unexpected setback on the farm. In August 2010, the family lost a building and its contents in a fire. They say that a lightning strike started the blaze that destroyed 500 tons of hay, a front end loader and a windrower. Within months, they finalized insurance payments and had the shed rebuilt.

While family members say they embrace a slow and steady approach to growing, they also explore innovation. This past July, the Docheffs installed a manure separator. For years, they tried to stockpile the manure and spread it in the fields, but Jim says that because the waste is 90 percent water, it was a slurry and difficult to pile. The new system separates the water and fiber and piles the fiber in one area while sending the water to holding ponds. The waste water moves through settling ponds until it’s ready to be spread out as fertilizer.

“We have close to zero waste with the manure,” Judy says. 

Not only are they cutting down on waste, the Docheffs use the fibrous remains to make fertilizer and with that, they started a small side business. Jay heads up the effort to sell fertilizer to landscape companies and area gardeners. 

It’s important to keep up with the times and innovation that can help the operation, Justin says.

“Things are always changing,” he says. “We have all of this computer stuff now, and four months ago, dad thought it was the stupidest thing. Now that he sees what it can do, dad is sold on it.”

Jim doesn’t have to sell anyone on the quality of his milk. His office wall is lined with quality milk awards from DFA. His first award dates back to 2000 when DFA recognized the Docheffs’ dairy for 12 consecutive months of bonus quality milk. The awards added up every year as they continuously achieved quality milk standards. 

Jim credits his commitment to the family and his cows for the success of the operation. Judy says her husband often comes home and says he’s tired, but not tired enough to take time off of the farm.
“People say why don’t you retire,” Jim says. “I won’t retire because I like what I’m doing. This is my life.”