A winning team

Written by Jo Anne Grammond

Collaboration earns Michigan dairy national recognition

Gregg Trierweiler and Matthew Keilen of K&K Dairy Farms LLC in Westphalia, Mich., have learned that producing the best milk is the result of a reliable, consistent team and a relentless desire to improve operations every single day.

K&K was started in the late 1960s by Jim Keilen, and was later run by Matthew’s parents, Bob and Diane Keilen. It was while Bob was running the dairy that he invited Gregg, then a student at Michigan State University studying agricultural technology, to intern on the farm. In 2014, Gregg and Matthew purchased the farm.

Gregg admits while he was originally hesitant to take that initial internship back in 2000, he’s grateful to still be on the farm and has a true passion for his work. “You’re just born with it,” he says of his career as a dairy farmer. “I don’t know where it came from, I grew up in this area and was always surrounded by cows and farms. We had a small 80-acre cash crop but no animals. I worked on a neighboring farm in high school, and I just kept finding my way back.”

For Matthew, the dairy is all he's ever known – aside from an internship at a dairy 20 minutes from K&K, it's the only job he's ever had. "I've always been on this farm, and I hope to always be here," Matthew says. "I hope to pass it down to my own son. This is all I've ever wanted to do, being on the farm."

Today, Gregg oversees cow health, the day-to-day milking operations, staff and finances for the dairy. Matthew largely oversees the field and crops.

“I like the diversity that comes with being a dairy farmer,” Gregg says. “There’s something different every day and I enjoy the challenge. I like looking for new solutions, and I like the people I work with. We have a great team. Finding labor can be a struggle, but we have good guys and it’s a good team effort every day. We take pride in knowing we are producing a quality product for consumers.”

The dairy has grown to include more than 500 Holsteins, housed in four-row freestall barns. The herd averages 29,810 pounds of milk, and milks in a double-10 parallel parlor.

Recently named one of just six Platinum winners from more than 140 nominated farms across the country in the 2015 National Dairy Quality Awards contest, Trierweiler and Keilen know they can’t run a successful dairy without the help of others. 

“We work closely with our vets and nutritionists. We’re all pretty adamant about cow health, and we’re always looking for areas to improve,” Gregg says. In fact, his wife, Kristin, is a large animal vet and the practice she works for, Clinton Veterinary Service, handles herd health checks for K&K.

"When Gregg and I purchased the farm from my dad, we wanted to not only increase our pounds-per-cow production, but we also wanted to improve the quality of the product," Matthew says. "That was how this farm has always been run. My grandpa and dad started the farm small, but they were always looking to improve the quality of the milk produced. They laid the foundation for our focus on quality, we are just pushing it forward. I know they appreciate what we are doing, and both my grandpa and dad are happy about seeing what they started continue on and earn recognition."

DFA is also a critical member of K&K’s team. “We work closely with the DFA Mideast Area staff, especially our milk quality specialist. Our former milk quality specialist, Fabian Bernal (now manager of dairy science and farm practices), did an evaluation a few years ago and gave us direction on areas where we could improve. We really focused on getting better in every area. It helps to know we always have people to contact who can answer questions for us, from the milk quality specialist to our field rep,” Gregg says.

“I had DFA employees attend my wedding,” says Matthew. “They aren't just business acquaintances to us. We have personal relationships with them, and they are an extension of our team. DFA employees encourage us to do new things, and they steer us in the right direction.”

Gregg says he appreciates that he can count on the Cooperative to provide support K&K needs. “DFA is a team,” he says. “I can call anybody there for help, and I don’t ever feel like I’m bothering people. Our co-op has an endless supply of resources on everything from milk quality to products to technology. There’s always someone I can contact to get the resources we need.”

Matthew agrees. "DFA will bend over backwards to help us and any other member-farmer when we most need it," he says. "I believe DFA looks for the best interests of us, the co-op, the industry, everybody. We appreciate that a lot," he says.

Through K&K's close relationship with the DFA team, Gregg was encouraged to get involved with the Cooperative. He recently completed a one-year term as the Young Cooperators (YC) liaison for the Mideast Area Council, and says he intends to remain actively involved with the YC program. He also serves as an alternate delegate for the Area.

“I enjoy having the opportunity to give my input and have a voice out there,” he says. “It’s important to know what’s going on within the industry and with the Cooperative. When it comes down to it, this is our business so I want to be as involved as I can.”