Milky way: Major area dairy on tap

PIERCE — Three Northern Colorado dairymen have agreed to merge their operations, drawing up long-term plans for one of the largest dairies in Weld County.

Rick Podtburg, joined by brothers Arlan and Elden Marrs, have formed Highland Dairy LLC. The trio wants to move their milking cows to the site of the existing Andrijeski Dairy, located at the northeast corner of Weld County roads 39 and 92, four miles east of Pierce.

Highland Dairy has also applied to Weld County authorities for a permit allowing up to 10,000 cows at the farm.

According to Podtburg, the owners are planning for the future.

“It is easier to get a permit for 12 to 15 years of growth than going back and getting permitted increases (for smaller numbers),” Podtburg said.

Currently, the dairy operation consists of 600 cows.

Tom Haren, co-owner of AgPro Environmental Services LLC, is the environmental consultant on the project. He is responsible for helping the dairy get through the planning stages.

“By no means is it going to be built to that extent overnight,” Haren said. “We are talking seriously long range, like 20 to 25 years.”

Weld County planning officials were scheduled to review the dairy proposal on Aug. 20.

Currently, 60 percent of the cows at the dairy are housed in a barn, and there is an old house on the property.

“There are some existing drainage problems we need to correct and fixing them is our top priority,” Haren said.

The Highland Dairy is not alone in Weld County. According to statistics provided by William Wailes, Colorado State University extension dairy specialist, 89 of Colorado’s 155 dairy farms are in Weld County.

Wailes is noticing a trend in dairy farming common in corporate America. The number of dairies is decreasing while the size of dairies is increasing.

“(The trend in dairies) is just like the corporate world,” Wailes said. “An example would be with grocery stores. There are fewer grocery stores but they are larger in size.”

The planned Highland Dairy expansion is a model of the trend.

The county is the 23rd largest dairy county in the United States, with estimated production in 2000 at 1.16 billion pounds of milk.

“Colorado has around 91,000 milking cows, and there are approximately 60,000 head in Weld County,” Wailes said “The largest dairy in Weld County is the Morway dairy with 4,500 cows.”

According to Wailes, Colorado’s Front Range produces 90 percent of Colorado’s milk and Weld County produces 64 percent all on its own.

“One statistic I am particularly proud of is that Colorado is 26th in the nation for the number of cows, but second for the amount of milk produced per cow,” Wailes said. “Washington is No. 1, so we must be doing something right.”