A 21-year-old junior at Dordt College looks toward his last year of school with excitement to return to the family dairy.
Farming comes naturally to Alex Prins. As he walks the long line checking cows, the smile on his face speaks volumes: He will never tire of life on the dairy.
“I’ve always loved the animals,” he said. “I have friends at college, a lot of them are row crop farmers, and they don’t understand how I can possibly love how busy this is. There’s just something to it, I love it!”
For the past 21 years, the Prins family has dairied just outside Sunnyside in the beautiful farmland of Eastern Washington. Alex, the oldest of three siblings, has been on the farm from the beginning.
“My parents moved into the house the middle of March 1997. I was born the end of March,” Alex said. “The cows came in the middle of April — it was a very busy spring! I’ve been here since the start.”
Alex was born with a passion for farming that only grew. Being a dairy farmer is something he’s never questioned. What most might see as living in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, Alex viewed as an opportunity to learn and soak in every moment of something he loves.
“I got to be out with my dad all the time when I was young; most kids can’t just go to work with their parents,” he explained. “I was out here following him around, learning from him.”
Farming takes patience, a skill Alex learned at a young age being involved in 4-H and working with his show heifers.
“When I was really little I learned patience,” he said. “It doesn’t always go your way, but when you work hard enough, sooner or later something will pay off.”
He says milking their herd of nearly 800 cows keeps his family plenty busy but is the reason they are farmers.
“We’re out here regardless of the weather doing all we can to keep our cows comfortable,” he said. “We’ll put in as many hours as we need to make sure they have food, water, and their pens clean. We do everything we possibly can to keep them comfortable and healthy.”
He reached over to scratch Sapphire, one of his old show cows as he continued to walk the line of Holsteins. “Without them we don’t have anything; they’re everything,” he said.
Alex has dedicated the last three years of his life to studying agribusiness at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, to learn about the intricacies and science behind a successful dairy — from healthy cows to a strong business operation.
Everything he learned growing up on the farm, showing in 4-H, and studying in college, have come together. Running a dairy is all about the details. He has to be able to handle his animals properly, know the industry, navigate the equipment involved, the list goes on.
“There’s a lot more to the business side of running a farm than people think,” he said. “Most people think, like for row crops, for example, you put the seed in the ground and you cut it and you sell it, but there’s all kinds of marketing that goes along with that.”
“With dairy, you have to be careful, you have to watch what you buy, manage your costs — especially now when the margins are slim,” Alex said. “You have to make the best with what you have.”
Sunnyside is one of the highest dairy producing regions in Washington. While the economy depends on it, dairy farmers depend on other commodities grown in the region.
“These onions, they love ‘em,” he pointed to heifers enjoying their morning meal. “We feed a lot of local produce depending on the season and what’s being harvested — we have apple pomace right now, too.”
Part of the business plan includes finding the perfect mix of breeds within the herd.
“Jerseys have higher components, which is perfect for making cheese,” Alex said. “Since our milk goes to Darigold, most of their product, at least here in the valley is cheese or whey; our 20 percent of Jerseys within the herd help a lot with that.”
From working in the fields on a tractor, to feeding calves, Alex is at home with whatever the day on Double P Dairy brings. Pure joy comes over his face when we spots a newborn calf, “Oh, there’s a little one over there!” he beamed.
His smile says it all.