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A22-Lmcttt*r Fuming, Saturday, April 23, 1994
Family, Future Is Farming; Farming Is Management
(Continued from Pago A 1)
Yes. The Sensenigs are now
using Posilac, Monsanto Corp.’s
recombinant form of bovine soma
totropin (BST) that was approved
last year by the Food and Drug
Administration as an over-the
counter drug for use in factoring
cows to stimulate additional milk
Although approved for use last
year, the sale of the product was
delayed until this February
because of a first-ever moratorium
imposed to determine potential
(Determination of a product’s
potential economic impact had not
previously been considered as a
function of the FDA, since its pur
pose is to make objective determi
nations of safety and efficacy of
products based on factual science.
Some people were upset with the
FDA’s seeming political acquies
cence to those objecting to the con
cept of Posilac. The argument is
that in the future, given such a pre
cedent, the FDA would be able to
ban food or drugs because of social
or economic impact, not because
of anything dangerous to health in
But even before using BST, his
herd average —at more than
30,000 pounds was the top in
Lebanon County and one of the
highest in the state.
The couple has been farming at
their place since 1987.
According to Sensenig, the
desire to use BST was to increase
the economic base of the farm, i.c.
higher milk output over financial
input to get maximum cash-return
The decision to use BST only
came after having done plenty of
homework first, and in talking
with his consultants before,
during and while now using it
Sensenig, he expects to
continue using it because it works
for him and it doesn’t hurt his
The 177-acre farm, the equip
ment, and the cows are the invest
ment upon which he, his wife and
four children depend to pay off
debt and keep themselves healthy.
Anything that would hurt the
cows would hurt the Sensenigs.
“We praise the Lord for the way
He has blessed us,” Nelson said.
With that much at risk, he said
that is why he is using such modem
techniques as milking three times
per day, feeding TMR, designing
bams specifically for the cow
rather than the cow-man, stressing
cow comfort in every aspect, etc.
And, he said it is really the rea
son he is using BST. “It’s a tool,
just like any other tool.” he said.
“Making milk takes good
The Holsteins at Sensenigs are
not a rare breed or even particular
ly the showcase of superior genetic
achievement by a breeder,
although Nelson does his own AI
work and is getting some attention
The majority of the herd con
sists of the cows and offspring that
came from a farm where the rolling
herd average was about 15,500
pounds of milk. Some other cows
in the herd were purchased from
farms with higher herd averages,
but nothing close to what the ani
mals have achieved at the Sensenig
The same story has been told by
researchers and many experts:
management makes milk, not
In fact, the genetic limit is not
yet known as to how high an aver
age production can be expected by
a herd of any dairy cattle. Sense
tugs’ herd average could increase.
Glen Flickenger, an indepen
dent nutritionist who runs his own
business, 21 st Century Consulting,
has been working with Sensenig
since last year ami the two have
known each other since 1985.
“I can see Nelson obtaining a
short term goal of (an average herd
production of) 32,000 (pounds of
milk), and obtaining a moderate
(several years) goal of 35,000
(pounds of milk). I see him doing
that,” Flickenger said Wednesday
during a telephone interview.
Flickenger praised Sensenig
“There’s just no substitute for
(Nelson’s) management,” Flicken
ger said. “Nelson is a topnotch
manager and the majority of
Neslon’s milk comes from Nel
son’s management The thing is, I
make a recommendation and go
home. He’s the one who makes it
work. He carries it out He gets the
milk out of those cows.
‘To me Nelson is the manager
of the next century. He wants the
people he works with to feed him
information, to feed him the new
technology and then he imple
ments it and he is constantly look
ing for new information.
“He is outstanding, really out
standing. He’s the kind of guy
everybody wants to feed, because
he’ll make their product look
good,” Flickenger said.
Sensenig said that he works
closely with his nutritionist and
veterinarian, who also work with
each other very closely concerning
The trio consists of Sensenig.
Flickenger and Dr. Timothy Tray
er, an associate with Hutchison,
Trayer and Reed, in Denver, Lan
Every two weeks, or within sev
eral days of two weeks, the three
get together at the farm and do a
herd health check.
“I find out when (Dr. Trayer) is
coming and stay with him through
the herd check, and we talk about
it; about what he’s seeing, what
I’m seeing,” Flickenger said. “In
between visits we talk on the
“1 love working with Dr. Tray
er,” Flickenger said, “I realy do.
It’s a pleasure. The thing I like
most is his honesty. If he doesn’t
like what I’m doing, he’ll tell me,
and 1 like that”
Trayer wasn’t available for
The background to the Sense
nigs is that Nelson started off as an
electrician after having grown up
on his father’s hog and beef farm.
For three years he worked as an
electrician. Then, at age 20, he
He and his wife Susan then dairy
farmed for three years at Philhaven
Farms in Lebanon County.
According to Nelson, the exper
ience he got working there, under
the tutelage of farm manager Aar
on Shirk, is what prepared him for
farming as an independent.
“Thai’s where 1 learned how to
milk cows,” Nelson said.
“I asked a lot of questions and he
gave me a lot of answers. He was
very patient,” Nelson said of Shirk.
Susan got her start growing up
on a dairy farm milking cows as a
teenager. She is as involved in the
milking at the farm as Nelson.
The farm they took over had
been purchased by Nelson’s
father. Eugene, in 1985. It was a
steer and hog operation with an old
bank bam and other buildings,
including a second house.
Large wooden ear com cribs
were converted into heifer stalls:
one house was razed, as well as
some other equipment buildings.
Part of the rock outcropping
behind the barn was removed to
provide more space behind the
bank bam. From the side of the
bam, Sensenig put on a single
story extension for the 92 tie stalls.
He built a milk house with a
1,500-gallon tank (though he
could use a larger one) about
where the buildings meet
In the back of the bam, three
silos were erected. A 6-month stor
age. circular manure pit was built
off of one of the front corners to
receive the manure from the
Actually, his father and brothers
worked a tot on building the new
facility. Nelson did also, and with
his electrician background, he did
all the wiring.
In fact, it is still undergoing
The approach the Sensenigs
take to farming is to be aggressive
in problem prevention. Nelson
said. He said his goal is to learn as
much as possible, to ask questions
and ask for reasons when advice is
In order to keep the herd at a
high level of production, Nelson
tracks his DHIA records for
changes. He tests his feed when it
changes. He tests moisture con
Nelson said that, just like the
reproductive problem he had at the
farm, he knows there are many
almost hidden things that can go
wrong in managing a dairy opera
tion, and the longer it takes to
detect, the longer it takes to cure, if
there is a cure.
It can be little, almost incedental
He said that in one instance his
9-year-old son Joel was sweeping
up some feed that had been spilling
horn the conveyor next to the Riss
ler TMR mixer and some of the
feed apparently got under the scale
on the mixer.
Until he discovered the error
by realizing that what he was
measuring was much more than it
should be for the volume every
lime he measured an ingredient,
the measure was off.
The problem was quickly cor
rected and apparently didn’t cause
any problems, but it was memor
able because it re-emphasized the
need to pay attention, to be analyti
cal and systematic, to consider and
monitor the entire operation on one
level, and also to consider and
monitor each component of the
He said he may now consider
using a known weight to do an
occassional calibration check of
The high production levels at
the Sensenig farm were not widely
known, but they were talked about
Even though Nelson officially
requested that his Pennsylvania
Dairy Herd Improvement Associa
tion records be kept private last
year, people tend to find out in
ballpark figures, how another is
doing. Local dairymen familiar
with the Sensenig operation
already knew of his high
The request was made by Sense
nig that his herd information not be
published during that time for pri
vacy reasons, which includes the
well-known reason that nothing
attracts Mend, foe and salesmen
Sensenig didn’t need to attract
anyone’s attention he had his
hands full with the three-times per
The old bank bam at Sensenig’s dairy farm was remod
eled with the expansion toward the house, the three silos
and the milkhouse, Just visible behind the automobile,
among other things. It is a modem operation designed for
day milking, staying on top of his
farm work and herd management,
and with his family.
The same is true with Susan,
who does the morning milking at 5
a.m„ helps with the 1 p.m. milking
and currently helps with the 9 p.m.
milking, while Merle Wise, who
does evening milkings sometimes,
is busy with his regular job. And
she has the four children
ranging in age from 1 to 9 to
Their schedule is full, by many
standards, but Nelson said they do
take time away from the farm.
Three times per year, they take a
“You have to get away from it,
to clear your head, if you want to
keep enjoying it,” he said, adding
that he knows of many others who
continue to stick to the daily rou
tine so much they end up bitter.
Another benefit in getting away
from the farm for a day or two is
that it can help with recognizing
subtle changes that may get over
looked in a day-in-day out routine.
Those are the changes Nelson
seeks, the small ones before they
get big ones.
Some people have suggested
that those who seek to produce a
lot of milk from each cow may be
digging their own financial grave.
The theory is that high numbers are
possible, but the return doesn’t jus
tify the effort or overhead.
Nelson said he can understand
that, but it isn’t the case for his
“Yes, we have a large debt load,
but we are managing it well.” Nel
“Yes, we have a large debt load,
but we are managing it well,” Nel
As far as feeding a TMR, his
recipe on Tuesday for 86 cows was
for 425 pounds of supplement;
1.320 pounds of haylage; 1.07 S
pounds of silage; 890 pounds of
high moisture com; 2SS pounds of
The supplement he uses is for
mulated by his nutritionist And it
is custom made.
The haylage and silage are farm
raised. The cotton seed bought
But working with an indepen
dent nutritionist is better for him,
Sensenig said, because the consul
tant is not tied into any specific
milling operation. In fact though
Flickenger said he doesn’t do a lot
of it he puts out Sensenig’s orders
Flickenger can calculate the
components Sensenig needs, send
out several requests for bids to sev
eral mills by fascimile machine,
and then after about a two-week
period review the offers.
Nelson said the differences
between high and low bids has var
ied as much as $2O per ton.
Sensenig said he enjoys the
team work approach to farming
“You have to surround yourself
with people who are aggressive
and up on the latest and who ask
you questions that make you
think,” Nelson said.
“It’s becoming more important
to me to have a good relationship
(exist between) the vet and nutri
tionist and they can work together
to solve problems that arise.”
Flickenger said the Sensenigs
are special, enjoyable people.
“Because he loves what he does,
he does it well,” Flickenger said.
“He doesn’t neighbor-farm. Nel
son does what is right for his farm
at the given time that it is right.
“I seca lot of young farmers fol
low what the neighbor is doing.
Nelson won’t care if everyone else
is mowing hay, if his is not (at the
right maturity). And he doesn't
care if no one else is mowing hay.
He will, if his is right and that’s
what makes him different,” Flick