7/24/2017 9:12:00 AM Little adjustments add up to big changes Tellers family host Carver County farmer to farmer tour
Donna and Mike Tellers (center) along with their family – (from left) Dan Schmidt, Graham Schmidt, Heidi Schmidt holding Charlie Schmidt, Oliver Schmidt and Cory Tellers – and employee, Evan Carlson, hosted a farmer-to-farmer tour on their 47-cow dairy near Chaska, Minn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Kevin Janni, professor in the department of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota, uses a device to check the velocity of air movement in the Tellers family’s tiestall barn during an on-farm tour near Chaska, Minn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
CHASKA, Minn. - Throughout their farming career, Mike and Donna Tellers have slowly made updates to their dairy over the years. On July 6, the couple along with their children - Nathan and his wife, Angie, and their children Reagan, 8, and Lauren, 3; Heidi and her husband, Dan Schmidt, and their children, Oliver, 5, Graham, 4, and Charlie, 1; and Cory and his wife, April - who also work on the farm, were able to share with other dairy producers what kind of impact those changes have made during a Farmer to Farmer Tour on their 47-cow dairy near Chaska, Minn. The event was planned and organized by the Carver County Dairy Core Team and the Minnesota Dairy Initiative-South Central Region. "We had lots done [to our farm] in the last 28 years," Mike said. Attendees were able to stop at three stations during the one tour. Jim Salfer, University of Minnesota Extension dairy educator, explained how to read and interpret Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) records while Kevin Janni, professor in the department of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota, talked about tunnel ventilation and lighting for a dairy barn. Mike and Donna spoke during the last station about all the changes they have made over the years and how those changes have collectively created a better herd in many aspects.
Tunnel ventilation and lighting The Tellers family has a two-story tiestall barn with 47 stalls. In 1995, they installed three 48-inch fans in the second story of the hay loft on one end of the barn and removed the ceiling right below the fans to let air up and out of the building. This spring, the Tellers family added a fourth fan on the lower level to increase air movement. Adding tunnel ventilation helps increase air velocity, Janni said. Minimally, a barn should have air movement of 220 feet per minute, which is about 2 miles per hour. Ideally, the range would be 2 to 6 mph. On the opposite ends of the fans, the Tellers family barn experiences 200 feet per minute velocity while the other end has a velocity of 500 feet per minute. To help achieve this minimum or higher, Janni said farmers need to have enough areas on the opposite end of the barn from the fans to allow air in and through the facility. Having openings where air can come in throughout the middle of the barn lessens the velocity of the opposite end. Although the Tellerses have a large opening half way down their barn due to the feed room built onto the side, they try to help air move towards the fan-end of the barn by using additional fans throughout the barn - above the cows and in the middle aisle. Janni said that's one downfall of this type of ventilation system. "Air is lazy. It takes the easiest route - goes down the middle aisle and feed alley," he said. Another disadvantage is increased electrical cost. To make the fans run as efficiently as possible, Janni suggested buying efficient fans, fixing belt slippage when it happens (which makes the motor work harder, but the fan does not move as fast), cleaning the fans often and making sure they are not blocked. Despite these challenges, the added air movement has helped keep cows more comfortable during the hot, humid summer months. In October 2016, the Tellers family replaced their fluorescent lights with 36, 6-foot light-emitting diodes (LEDs). In addition to having the lights in the center aisle, they also line the feed alley. Janni said LEDs are more efficient, lasting 10 to 15 years, while normal fluorescent lights last four to five years. LEDs also offer a good light source, with Extension recommending 50 footcandles while milking in order to see teat ends. Cows need 16 to 18 hours of light, Janni said. Because of this, the Tellerses run their feed alley lights during the day. For the night time hours, only 1 to 3 footcandles are needed. Janni said farmers should check for rebates with their local power company if they are looking to install LEDs. It's also important to make sure the LEDs to be installed are good for barns. "Lights need to be dust proof and you'd like them to be waterproof," Janni said. "Moisture, dust and gas will corrode things over time so that's why you can't just go with the cheapest."
Achieving top production Mike and Donna Tellers said there isn't one factor to achieve a high producing herd. Rather, it has been the accumulation of several small changes over the years. In 1989, the herd had a 14,000-pound rolling herd average. Right away, they started using A.I. and selecting proven sires and eventually mapping their heifers. Today, the herd has a rolling herd average of 28,300 pounds, which is complimented by selected traits, such as feet and legs, high butterfat and protein, and good calving ease. "I like cows with good nice square udders and shorter teats so they don't get stepped on," said Mike, who only uses the top 30 percent of the bulls in A.I. Focusing on putting up good quality forages also started in the early years for the Tellerses. They learned early on to have a shorter cutting interval for their alfalfa to avoid the forage being in full bloom. This in turn helps make good feed and quality animals. "I always say, 'If you feed them, they will grow,'" Mike said. A barn renovation in 1998 has also helped cow comfort. Lengthening the stalls by 8 inches gave the cows more room, especially when getting up and down. In 2006, they installed mats in the walkway and stalls along with gutter grates. "That was a great thing. I wish I would have done that sooner," Mike said. "Before, they would want to jump into the stalls and have hurt feet and legs." The mats and grates gave the cows more ease while walking in the barn. Mike also said working closely with his nutritionist, especially focusing on the few weeks before and after the cows calve, has helped minimize ketosis, displaced abomasums and retained placentas. Other smaller changes that have led to a big difference have been purchasing a hammer mill for cracking corn, adding manger liners, using hydrated lime on the back half of the stalls and cleaning the water tanks when it gets hot. "On hot humid days that water seems to turn black. You'd be surprised how much sludge is in the bottom of that tank from feed and other things," Mike said. Adding more bedding to a far off heifer pen also helped cut somatic cell count in half for the group from 200,000 to nearly 100,000. "I thought the pens were clean, but obviously not. When we started bedding the heifer group every day it made a difference almost immediately," Mike said. Donna, who takes care of the calves, explained the protocol for taking care of youngstock, which includes an accelerated feeding program for the first six weeks before weaning at 7 weeks. In addition to having good help from their family, Mike and Donna have learned to hire good employees. But part of making a good employee relies on them. They said they must lead by example, train the employees well and with the right protocol, and teach the employees to have a purpose on the farm to help motivate them. One of their current employees, Evan Carlson, has worked on the farm for seven years.
Interpreting DHIA records Salfer took the DHIA records from the Tellerses' herd to explain a few areas. He said most people just look at dairy milk production and rolling herd average. "Those should be the last numbers you look at," Salfer said. "We need to look at the factors that go into getting good production because our cows now are bred to milk. Now, we just have to put them in an environment to milk." These factors include cow comfort, quality feed, herd health, good water, low somatic cell count and being able to get cows pregnant. Salfer likes to look at the peak ratio number, which compares heifers to the rest of the herd. He said a high number might mean the cows are not doing well and a low number might mean the heifers are not performing well. That can give a farmer a better indication of where improvement needs to be made. Salfer said he also likes to look at somatic cell count and the number of new infections, which can help a farmer differentiate between chronic cows and new cases. "If the number of new infections stays low, somatic cell count will go down," Salfer said. Other numbers to look at are pregnancy rate and conception rate. Salfer said getting cows bred and subsequently pregnant in a timely manner is important for an efficient and more profitable herd.