Have you heard the buzz about our newest product on the farm? It’s actually not a dairy product.
Our newest venture is in Wagyu-Holstein beef. That’s kind of a mouthful —literally!
Wagyu, a breed of Japanese beef cattle, may not be a familiar term to most people. But it’s actually the breed behind the famous Kobe beef that you see on restaurant menus.
Real Kobe beef actually comes from the Tajima bloodline of Japanese Black Wagyu cattle, and it must be raised, fed and slaughtered in the Hyogo prefecture of Japan. Many U.S. restaurants may put “Kobe” beef on the menu, but in truth, only a handful are certified to serve it (check out this article from Business Insider for more on that topic).
Highly desirable beef
So what’s so great about it? Wagyu (pronounced “wahg-you”) is widely regarded as highly desirable beef due to:
Superior marbling, shown in raw meat as tiny white dots or a spider web of ultra-thin veins throughout the muscle, which results in tender texture
Rich, buttery flavor
Healthy, monounsaturated fatty acids — especially oleic acid, which is responsible for flavor. These monounsaturated fats have a lower melting point, below human body temperature, so they literally melt in your mouth. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Starting a Wagyu herd
Blake Hansen, Hansen’s Dairy co-owner and herd manager, first heard about Wagyu beef about four years ago from family friends in Des Moines. They were raising a few head just to feed to their own family, and one taste-test had Blake hooked.
This family raised both full-blood cows (mother and father are both Wagyu) and Jersey crossbreeds (Jersey mother and Wagyu father). That got Blake thinking about crossing Wagyus with his Holsteins and offering a very nice selection of meat to customers who already knew us by our dairy products. Blake actually preferred the taste of the crossbreed to the full-blood. Because it wasn’t as rich, he could eat more of it. 😉
The first step was finding the semen. Our dairy cows are artificially inseminated so that we don’t have to keep live bulls on the farm. This provides a lot of genetic variety without having to house and feed bulls and worry about their temper. So to have a crossbred Wagyu-Holstein, we would breed a Holstein female with Wagyu semen.
Blake discovered that Wagyu cattle are typically butchered at 27-29 months old, as they gain the most marbling after 24 months. This is in contrast to more well-known breeds of beef cattle raised in Iowa, which are usually butchered at around 14-16 months.
So this is where things got hard to predict. How much demand would there be for this new beef? When you add up the time it takes for a cow to become pregnant, carry the calf for 9 months, and then raise the calf to 28 months of age, that’s more than three years. And he had to choose how many cows to breed to this Wagyu semen, and how often, because a pregnancy is never guaranteed. In the end, he decided to aim for one or two cows to be butchered each month.
Just like our dairy cows, the Wagyu-Holsteins are raised with great care and quality feed throughout their lives. They are housed in the same pens and fed the same diet as the dairy cows. We do not use growth hormones or preventive antibiotics, and we grow the majority of their feed — corn silage and alfalfa hay silage — on our own land. The genetic traits of Wagyu cattle just naturally result in better meat quality even on the same diet as a dairy cow.
Our first Wagyu-Holstein cow went to the meat locker (we use Marks Locker in Rowley, Iowa) in August 2018. We developed a great partnership with the new restaurant Table 1912, located in the Jorgensen Plaza development of the Western Home in Cedar Falls, to feature this beef on their menu. The Western Home Communities have purchased our dairy products for almost as long as we’ve been producing them, and their restaurant concept is focused on farm-to-table fine dining. They source many of their ingredients from Iowa farmers, so they were excited to be the exclusive server of this new local beef.
We also began selling the meat cuts privately to individuals. A Waterloo Courier article about our beef garnered national attention, as it was picked up by the Associated Press and published in more than 40 newspapers across the country, including the Miami Herald (Fla.), US News & World Report, Washington Times (D.C.) and Houston Chronicle (Texas). Not bad for a small-town Iowa farm.
Try some for yourself
Is your mouth watering yet? Here are some things to know when preparing it:
Small serving sizes. Wagyu is very tender and has a buttery flavor. Steak serving sizes are typically smaller because of the rich flavor profile.
Faster cooking time. Wagyu cooks faster than other beef. It is recommended that steaks are cooked to no more than medium rare for optimum palatability.
Juicy hamburger. Wagyu-Holstein beef is about 90% lean.
We sell our Wagyu-Holstein hamburger in bulk and patties at our Waterloo and Cedar Falls stores for $8/pound. We don’t sell the finer cuts of meat in our stores because of limited quantities and higher price point. If you are interested in purchasing prime cuts of our Wagyu-Holstein beef, call Blake Hansen at (319) 610-1530. As of this post, there are several cuts available, including roasts, short ribs, top sirloins, New York strips, ribeyes and filets, ranging in price from $16 to $100 per pound.
As the calendar turns from April to May, families naturally seek out activities to do outside. Maybe one of those activities is touring Hansen’s Dairy farm?
We aim to make your tour a fun, educational and possibly surprising experience. Here are 5 things you need to know before your visit.
The hands-on tour is the best (if we may brag).
We offer two types of tours for families. The walk-through tour is a guided tour that takes you through the process of getting milk from the farm to your table. You’ll see the calves, milking parlor, cow barns, creamery, kangaroos and goats, plus enjoy a dish of ice cream. Children 3 and younger are free; all other participants are $8. Tours can begin between the hours of 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and you must have a reservation. This tour will take about an hour and a half.
The hands-on tour offers you more opportunities. In addition to seeing all the places listed above, you get to take a trolley ride around the farm, feed a calf, milk a cow by hand, pet the kangaroos and goats, make and eat your own butter, and try all of our products. Again, children 3 and younger are free; all other participants are $12. Tours begin at 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and you must have a reservation. Tours start at 3:30 because of the cows’ schedule — that’s when they’re being milked and the calves are being fed. This tour will take about 2 hours.
We always make tours by appointment, so dropping in is not recommended. Also, if you can’t make your reservation, please let us know not to expect you. There likely are other groups scheduled at the same time, so we like to avoid making the whole tour wait.
By the way, the hands-on tour is not just fun for kids. Adults will have a blast too, I promise!
Call 319-988-9834 to make your reservation.
2. Bring cash or check.
At this time we don’t take debit or credit cards for payment of tours or products. You may want to bring some extra spending money in case you would like to buy products after the tour. We do a good job of teasing your taste buds, just sayin’!
3. Don’t bring a stroller unless it’s an “off-road” or jogging-type stroller.
The farm is mostly gravel and has few concrete areas where it’s smooth to push a stroller. Trying to navigate with an umbrella stroller or travel-system stroller can be very difficult. Either plan to carry the little ones or use a baby carrier. We also have a nice jogging stroller for your use if you would like it, no charge.
4. Don’t dress as if you’re going to a party or a concert.
This is a working farm. The ground may be muddy, the wind might be blowing feed around, a calf could slobber on you, you’ll see cows “relieving” themselves … you get the idea. Dress in old shoes or boots and clothes that can get dirty. I’ve seen open-toed heels, flip-flops, white pants and the like. That’s a recipe for disaster! While we do take a trolley ride to the farm, most of the tour is by foot so you need to be comfortable walking.
By the end of the tour, you will most likely be smelly, too. You may not want to plan to go out to eat afterward if you don’t want to offend other restaurant patrons. Besides, we’ll feed you so many dairy products at the end of the tour, we’ll probably ruin your supper.
5. (Over)dress for the weather.
The weather can be unpredictable. We generally don’t cancel our tours because of weather; we let the tourists decide if they want to brave the rain, wind or snow. However, if you decide to come, know this: a farm is more extreme than the city! If it’s windy in town, it’s twice as bad in the wide open country. We tell people to overdress in the spring and fall because it’s much nicer to have a hat and gloves, even in May, than be cold and uncomfortable. Especially for kids! Remember that about half of the tour is outside, and the trolley has a covered top but open-air sides.
Above all, we want you to have a great experience at the farm. These tips should help you make the best of your trip. Hope to see you soon!
Ever wonder what the Hansen dairy cows eat to produce such great tasting milk and dairy products?
To keep our cows healthy and help them produce high quality, great-tasting milk, they are fed a meticulously calculated mixture of dried cracked corn, distiller’s grain, linseed meal, corn silage, alfalfa haylage and vitamins and minerals. Our cows have more balanced diets than most people!
Let’s take a closer look at these ingredients.
Dried Cracked Corn: These dried corn kernels broken into small, coarse pieces are high in carbohydrates and starch.
Dry Distillers Grain: As ethanol production uses only starch from the corn kernel, the remaining protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins make distillers grain. Instead of throwing the kernel away, the cows make use of the remaining nutritional value. It’s like eating the chicken after you’ve used its feathers to stuff your pillow!
Linseed Meal: A byproduct of extracting the oil from flaxseed, linseed meal is high in protein and fiber.
Corn Silage: The entire corn plant – stalk, leaves, cob, and kernels – is chopped into small pieces, resulting in a feed that is loaded with fiber, thiamin and carbohydrates.
Alfalfa Haylage: A grass crop that is cut and fermented, alfalfa haylage is a roughage material that provides protein, calcium and carbohydrates.
Vitamins and Minerals: To round out the cow’s diet, they are given 1.5 lbs of vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and sodium bicarbonate.
Since today is Father’s Day, and June is National Dairy Month, I decided to share what makes my husband the best dairy daddy.
Blake loves showing our kids (Reese, 3, and Beckett, 1) all about being a farmer. Reese has already had a lot of hands-on experiences with cows and is discovering all the different aspects of raising them.
I love how he is instilling in our children (and his nieces and nephews) his love for animals. He is patient, caring, sensitive and kind, both in his work life and home life. He works hard until he gets the job done, then comes in and plays hard with the kids.
I love watching Blake be a dad. I would be proud if our kids grow up to be a farmer — or a parent — just like him.
Twins are very unusual in cattle, and if you’ve taken a tour of Hansen’s Dairy, you know that of the 200 calvings each year at Hansen’s, about five sets of twins will be born. Female twins born at Hansen’s will get matching names. For example, names of the female sets of twins on the farm have included Flip and Flop, French and Fry, Shoe and String, and Lois and Lane.
But when a heifer and bull are twins, that heifer may be sold and raised for beef production instead of becoming a milking cow at Hansen’s Dairy. This is because 90% of the time that heifer will be sterile (unable to get pregnant). If she can’t get pregnant, she won’t be able to have a baby and produce milk.
When we tour guides tell our guests about this phenomenon, they often ask what causes this. After a little research, I found that these sterile heifers are called freemartins and that the heifer’s sterility is caused by blood vessels becoming interconnected between the heifer and bull. The blood then flows from one twin to the other, and male hormones like testosterone circulate and interfere with the heifer’s sexual development. The male hormones then masculinize the female twin, and the result is a sterile female.
Listed below are several interesting facts about freemartins.
· For the most part, the male twin is largely unaffected by sharing blood with his sister.
· Freemartins will have masculinized behavior and non-functioning ovaries.
· These heifers will behave and grow in a fashion similar to castrated male cattle (steers).
· It is very difficult to determine by palpation if the heifer will be fertile until she is about 6 months old.
· At any age, a simple blood test can be done to detect the presence of male Y-chromosomes in the white blood cells of the heifer to determine if she is sterile or not.
· In about 10 percent of different sex twins, no fusion of blood vessels takes place and the female remains fertile.
· In fraternal twins, it’s possible to have two Holsteins with different colors. The photo shown is a Black & White Holstein with a Red carrier gene. She was bred to a Red & White bull and had a Black & White/Red & White twins.
· Freemartinism is the normal outcome of mixed-sex twins in all cattle species and also occurs in sheep, goats and pigs.
About 200 calves are born each year at Hansen’s Dairy, and Herd Manager Blake Hansen serves as a type of cattle ob-gyn for the expecting cows. While difficulties during labor are uncommon, difficult labors are very hard on the cows and can lead to diminished milking productivity and decreased fertility. For these reasons, Blake keeps a close eye on the cows near the end of their 9-month pregnancy.
Though each cow is different, Blake will see several indications that a cow is close to labor. In the week before calving, her feed intake decreases and her udder will start to swell. Young heifer’s udders can start swelling as early as 1 month before labor. Several days before labor, the ligaments on the tail head cave in slowly, then drastically when labor is only hours away.
During the first stage of labor, the calf is being forced toward the birth canal and the cervix is beginning to dilate. Because of the dilation, the base of her tail may appear to have a kink in it. At this point, the cow will be moved inside the barn to the maternity pen so she can deliver her calf in a dry, clean space.
Shortly after, the water bag will appear from the vulva. It will resemble a small reddish-brown balloon filled with water, or the bag may burst inside her. When this bag breaks, the cow will feel a release of pressure and she’ll get up to investigate. If she makes no progress for a half-hour after the water bag has appeared or burst, Blake will help the cow with her delivery.
During the second stage of labor the contractions become strong and coordinated. They will come 3 to 5 minutes apart. The cow will often lie on her side begin to push. She will be visibly straining.
Within an hour after the water bag has appeared, two small white hooves should emerge from the vulva while still in the embryotic fluid bag. After a few minutes, the nose will follow, then the shoulders, body and hind legs. The cow will immediately stand and turn to clean the calf with her tongue.
80% of births are unassisted and calves will enter the birth canal correctly, with their front feet first and nose between their knees. But sometimes, the calves may have limbs twisted, be backwards (breech) or too large.
The third and final stage of labor is the passing of the afterbirth. The cow’s uterine contractions will continue in order to expel the remaining fetal membranes. This will last anywhere from 1 to 12 hours.
Some tour participants are lucky enough to witness a calf being born. It’s wonderful to see the miracle of life before your eyes!
CareerCast.com recently posted their annual listing for the 200 Worst Jobs in America for 2013. The rankings were based on five factors: physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. “Dairy farmer” was listed as No. 6. So what do the farmers at Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy have to say about that?
“If everyone loved their job as much as dairy farmers, there wouldn’t be such a list,” says Blake Hansen, herd manager.
Indeed. Working with cows can be very satisfying and rewarding, and a dairy farmer has to be completely committed to his craft in order to be successful. Like other self-employed people, their whole life revolves around their business. They do what they love to provide a nutritious food group to feed America. Their livelihood relies on those animals staying alive and healthy for years. If a farmer takes proactive steps to maintain the health of his cows, he maximizes his chances of success. If he takes care of the cows, they will take care of him.
Let’s address the factors that went into creating this worst job list.
Physical demands. Dairy farmers milk their cows at least twice a day, feed them three times a day, and care for them around the clock. They deal with inclement weather, delivering calves, heavy lifting and being on their feet all day. But Blake says the physical demands are nothing compared to the mental effort. Keeping track of the needs of 375 animals in different life stages is mentally taxing.
Work environment. OK, sometimes the smell is a little overwhelming. (You get used to it.) But who wouldn’t love the wide open spaces a farm provides? The steady supply of milk right outside your door? The opportunities for your kids to learn the value of family and hard work? Our small-scale farm (375 cows from newborn to 10 years old) allows us to get to know each cow by name and temperament. Blake knows who likes to be first in the milking parlor, who loves her tail rubbed and who is ready to calve. Imagine working with a group of girls with very unique, individual personalities, and not a catty one in the bunch!
Income. We’ll agree with this one. Many small dairy farms have had to sell out because of high input costs (feed and fuel) and low income (market prices for the milk). Twelve years ago our family took a financial risk by investing in facilities and equipment to bottle our own milk, and it has paid off in a big way. But we know it would be much harder for single-family farmers to put in that kind of time, money and effort. We are grateful to be able to support five families with the size farm we have.
Stress. Every job has its ups and downs. The death of an adult cow who you saw being born, trying to get fieldwork done ahead of the rain, working side by side with family members, and managing employees can all be stressful. There’s very little vacation time. But there is nothing like the feeling of seeing a cow nursing her newborn calf that you helped deliver overnight. The life cycle is renewed, and it’s wonderful to think about that calf’s potential down the road. Our oldest cow has produced enough milk in her lifetime to fill four semi-trailers. And she’s still going.
Hiring outlook. Land prices around here have skyrocketed, so if you don’t already have a farm in the family that will be passed down to you, getting into the business by yourself is financially tough. And with large operations streamlining milk production, jobs are harder to come by. But hey, if any of you are looking for a job in the dairy industry, we usually have something available!
So, we would argue with dairy farming’s placement on the worst jobs list. The proof is bottled in a jug on your table with our name on it.
You know we have a wallaby in the Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy logo. My husband, herd manager Blake Hansen, fell in love with wallabies (miniature kangaroos) after visiting Australia and seeing them in the wild. He acquired three of them from an exotic animal dealer in 2002 and we decided to use them as the logo for our milk. It was something different and meant to attract the attention of kids — whom, of course, we want to consume more dairy products. We just make sure people know the milk comes from the cows, not the wallabies! They’ve been quite the tourist attraction over the years.
This year, Blake decided he wanted to raise some kangaroos, so we bought two female babies from a dealer in Texas. They flew into Cedar Rapids in early December, and now they are living in our house. Pogo is about 8 months old and Tootsie is 6 months. They both weigh less than 10 pounds and are about 18 inches tall.
What’s it like to live with kangaroos? For right now they spend a lot of time in warm little bags that simulate their mother’s pouch. They are fed a kangaroo milk replacer four times a day by bottle and eat some solid pellet food called Happy Hopper. Blake puts diapers on them, cutting a slit for their tail. They love to do laps around the house, and they are fast, jumping effortlessly over any obstacle. As I write, Pogo is jumping over the Monopoly game Blake and some of his nieces are playing!
Recently Blake and his brother Brad took Pogo and Tootsie to Hudson Elementary School. The ‘roos brought a lot of smiles to the students’ faces.
Hopefully the kangaroos made an impression on the kids and they equate that experience with drinking Hansen’s milk.
But these kangaroos aren’t drinking our milk. The irony? Marsupials are lactose-intolerant. I don’t think Blake knew that when he picked them for the faces of Hansen’s Dairy!
The calendar says Nov. 20, but you wouldn’t know it by looking outside. Fortunately, the nice day is allowing us to prepare for the upcoming season of not-so-nice days.
The cows mostly like the winter. They are much more comfortable than during the summer, when the heat causes them stress and diminishes their milk production. You should see them kick up their heels in the barnyard when the first measurable snow arrives. Plus, they get those cute wooly winter coats.
But winter on the farm can be tough for us people. It takes a lot longer to trudge through snow and get the chores done. You’re always worried about water troughs freezing, equipment not starting, mountains of snow to plow and the electricity going out if there’s ice.
The days are shorter, so list of things to do is shorter. But first we have to get through our winter readiness list.
The first task is to complete the harvest. Before the snow flies, the corn silage flies.
Corn silage, along with hay silage, makes up the basis of what the heifers and milking cows eat. Due to the drought, corn silage was harvested pretty early this year (early to mid-September). We fill plastic ag bags and the silos with enough corn silage to last us until next year at harvest time.
Each cow eats about 90 pounds of food a day, so that’s a lot of feed to store. We also chop leftover cornstalks from the shelled corn harvest to use for cow bedding.
The next thing we do is empty the manure pit. We inject a million gallons of cow waste into our fields to serve as fertilizer. What goes around comes around! I’ll spare you pictures of that process. Suffice it to say, the farm smells pretty ripe during that time. Sorry, neighbors.
Next we put up plastic sheeting in the front and back of the calf huts to keep the babes warmer. The plastic is rolled down to serve as a windbreak in the winter and rolled up again in the spring so they can feel the breeze.
The same story happens in the greenhouses where the 2-month-old to 6-month-old calves live. The greenhouses absorb a lot of heat so it stays pretty toasty in there.
Once it gets a bit colder, the baby calves also get extra cornstalk bedding in their huts, and Blake puts a shot of cream in their bottles of whole milk for extra fat and warmth. The calves aren’t worried about that today. This one is enjoying basking in the sun.
And finally, a new project for this year. Blake and Michael are building a 100′ x 100′ pen to house some new animals that we’re going to have. Can you guess what we are getting? (Hint: It’s something we haven’t had before.) Leave your guesses below!