A double-10 rapid exit parallel parlor the Johnsons built in 2014 is used to milk their herd of 225 cows twice a day.PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
A double-10 rapid exit parallel parlor the Johnsons built in 2014 is used to milk their herd of 225 cows twice a day.
PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
The Johnson Family
Darren and Lynn Johnson
Winona, Minn.
Winona County
225 cows

What is your current herd average, butterfat and protein? Our herd average is 29,327 pounds of milk with 1,078 pounds of butterfat and 892 pounds of protein.

How many times a day do you milk? If you don't milk 3X a day, have you tried it in the past? We milk twice a day. We have never tried three times a day.

Do you use BST? If so, what is your protocol? No, we have never used BST.

Do you contract your milk? Has it been successful for you? No, we have never contracted milk.

Describe your housing and milking facility. In 2014 we put up a new 209-stall freestall barn that is divided into four groups - post-fresh, 2-year-old, mature cows and dry cows. All stalls are bedded with sand. Cows are milked in a double-10 rapid exit parlor, which was also built in 2014.

What is the composition of your ration? What has been one of your most recent changes that has been successful for you? Composition amounts vary per group, but the mix consists of haylage, corn silage, high moisture shell corn and earlage. We started using a master mix for the dry feed stuffs one year ago. The mix consists of dry hay, cottonseed, soybean meal and a custom protein mix. We mix a batch every three days and then store it in our commodity shed. This has helped speed up mixing time and decreases the chance of mixing errors. We really like this change. The composition of the dry cow ration includes corn silage, wheat straw and a custom dry cow mix. We work closely with our nutritionist, Chad Kieffer.

Through the years you've been farming what change has created the biggest jump in your herd average? Prior to 2004, the cows were housed in a tiestall barn. In 2004, the barn was converted to a flat-barn, and we built a freestall barn. The cows were then introduced to sand bedding. This increased the herd average and lowered the somatic cell count because of increased cow comfort. More recently, with the addition of the new facility in 2014, we have been able to decrease our SCC due to being able to better manage the herd. Our computer system allows us to have daily milk weights, conductivity reports, activity monitoring and feeding time.

What is your herd health program? Our milking herd gets vaccinated with J-5, Virashield, SRP, Ultrabac 7 and Multi-Min. This past September we started using Imrester. All cows have their hooves trimmed twice per year. We work closely with our veterinarian, who does herd checks every two weeks.

What does your dry cow and transition program consist of? We have all the dry cows in one group. Cows are dried off between 45-60 days. We move the cows into a bedded pack pen about four to five days prior to their due date. Once they calf, they move into the post-fresh group for approximately 45 days.

What role do genetics play in your production level and what is your breeding program? Genetics are important. You have to have good cows to make milk. When breeding cows, we focus on net merit, combined fat and protein, productive life, daughter pregnancy rate and functional type - strength, udders, and feet and legs. We have an activity system that does day-to-day monitoring for heats. Generally, first service is between 60 and 75 days, depending upon production. Our current average days open is 95 days. If no heat is shown on their own, we run the ovsynch program. The 2-year-olds are mated.

What type of improvements would you like to make that would increase your rolling herd average even higher? The only thing we could do at this point is to go to milking three times per day.

What would you say are the three most important factors for you that helped you attain your current herd average? The first is cow comfort. We have a one-to-one cow to stall ratio, so they are not overcrowded and there is more bunk space. We don't have as many fresh cow problems as we used to. The second factor is putting up quality feed combined with good nutrition. It's important to get the crop harvested at the right time and feed the best ration. Working with a good nutritionist helps with this aspect. Having more groups in the barn also allows us to tailor each ration better rather than feeding one ration to the entire herd. The third factor is genetics.

Tell us about your farm. We are the third generation to own the farm, with the fourth generation working into the operation. Our son, Shawn, returned to the farm full time in April 2016 and our other son, Kyle, who is still in high school helps with chores when he is able. We currently own and rent a total of 600 acres. We raise our replacement heifers and feed out the steers. Darren's parents, Dennis and Betty, are still involved by helping feed calves and doing field work. Darren's brother, Kevin, works for us full time.