Montcalm County farmer named 2015 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year

Edmore dairy farmer receives credit for his accomplishments in the dairy industry.

2015 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year Mike Rasmussen operates Hillhaven Farms along with his family. Pictured, L-R, are Jesse, Sonja, Wilbert, Mike and Gracie Rasmussen. Photo by J.R. Dude Photography.
2015 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year Mike Rasmussen operates Hillhaven Farms along with his family. Pictured, L-R, are Jesse, Sonja, Wilbert, Mike and Gracie Rasmussen. Photo by J.R. Dude Photography.

Mike Rasmussen of Edmore, Michigan, is the Michigan State University Department of Animal Science‘s 2015 Dairy Farmer of the Year.

“I am very humbled that the industry I love would recognize me,” Rasmussen said. “There have been some pretty great people in the past who have received this honor, and it is very gratifying to be among them.”

Rasmussen operates Hillhaven Farms along with his wife, Sonja, and three children -- Jesse, Wilbert and Gracie. Mike and his father, Chris Rasmussen, are co-owners of the MontcalmCounty farm. 

“The greatest thing about having a farm is raising my kids in the country setting and teaching them about responsibilities and sustainable farming,” Rasmussen said. “Our children respect and care for the land and animals as much as we do.”

Hillhaven Farms has made many improvements while transitioning from a 150-cow dairy to its current herd of 870 cows and 720 youngstock. Rasmussen’s herd currently has a DHI rolling herd average of 26,623 pounds of milk.

“At our farm, we strive to have a successful team-oriented approach, and we have some outstanding people on our team,” Rasmussen said. “In 2011, Sonja began working full-time at the farm. She has been integral to our success. Sonja and our employees are just as much responsible for this award as I am. The cows are more productive when our team is working together.”

In 2004, the farm completed its first Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP), though the Rasmussens have been testing and applying manure nutrients according to crop uptake since 1986. This has greatly reduced commercial fertilizer usage on the farm. The Rasmussens are currently working with MSU researchers to develop new technologies to conserve natural resources and protect their land. In 2010, the farm began recycling manure solids to use as bedding in the continuing effort to upgrade land management practices to improve the environment. 

“We may be a larger farm for our geographic area, but we still have the same midsize family- oriented and sustainable atmosphere we had when we had 150 cows,” Rasmussen said.

Mike Rasmussen holds several leadership positions at the local and statewide levels. He is president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) Alma Local and vice chairman of MMPA District 5, and he serves on the local school board and township board, and leads the Hoofbeaters 4-H club.

Opening Hillhaven Farms to the public has been a big part of the Rasmussens’ involvement in their community. They host an animal science class from MontcalmCommunity College each year, allowing the college to use the farm as a classroom and hands-on learning environment. They also hosted the 2013 MSU Dairy Challenge, when more than 100 students visited their farm. When students and others visit, Mike loves to answer questions about his farm and teach others about the quality products raised there. 

“Mike is a great representative of dairy farmers of Michigan who strive to manage crop nutrients to protect the environment and work to develop new technologies to be incorporated into modern food production,” said Janice Swanson, MSU Department of Animal Science chair. “In addition, he takes time to provide outreach and educational opportunities to the public by opening his farm to a local college for hands on experiences.”

“We open our farm to the community at every chance we get,” Rasmussen said. “We want to tell our farm’s story ourselves – not let someone write it for us. Opening our farm publicly allows for that.”

The award will be presented Feb. 6 during the Dairy Industry Recognition Banquet at the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference.  The conference runs Feb. 5-7 in Frankenmuth. This is the first year the MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year award has been announced before the conference. 

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