September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Carlsons climb the chart with cow comfort, quality forages

The Carlsons noticed a dramatic increase in cow comfort after switching to sand bedding. The bedding has also led to better foot health through the whole herd.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING
The Carlsons noticed a dramatic increase in cow comfort after switching to sand bedding. The bedding has also led to better foot health through the whole herd.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY ANDREA BORGERDING

Carlson Dairy, LLP
Pennock, Minn.
Kandiyohi County
1,250 cows
What is your current herd average, butterfat and protein? Our rolling herd average is 30,650 milk, 1,260 fat, and 980 protein.
How many times a day do you milk? We milk our herd three times a day.
Do you use BST? If so, what is your protocol? Yes, we use BST. Healthy cows get started at roughly 100 days in milk when not confirmed pregnant. Roughly 45 percent of our herd is supplemented.
Do you contract your milk? Has it been successful for you? Yes, we have been using varying degrees of risk management tools since 2000, and overall, have had mixed results. Our goal is to make disciplined and consistent decisions and try to stay 50 percent or more covered with feed and milk. To accomplish this, we work with a dairy marketing consultant who specializes in both milk and feed marketing to help us manage our pricing risk and evaluate different options. We're using mainly forward contracting and "fence" trading (locking in a floor and a ceiling) with milk.
Describe your housing and milking facility. Our herd is currently housed in a 10-row cross-ventilated, sand-bedded freestall facility. We're in the process of building an additional 455-stall freestall barn to spread out our existing herd and slightly increase our herd size. Our sand is continuously recycled through sand settling lanes. We milk three times a day in a double-18 parallel milking parlor using Beco milking equipment.
What is the composition of your ration? What has been one of your most recent changes that has been successful for you? We feed a diet high in haylage with 16 pounds dry matter of hay and haylage combined. Other ration components are 11.5 pounds of corn silage, 17 pounds of corn including both dry corn and high moisture ear corn, 1.5 pounds of beet shreds, vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Our high groups average 65 pounds of dry matter intake per day. Several years ago, we switched to canola as our main protein source and also started to feed a liquid molasses product. This is the most recent change that has been successful.
Through the years you've been farming, what change has created the biggest jump in your herd average? The two changes that had the biggest impact were adding a TMR in the late 1980s and changing to sand bedding in 2008.
What is your herd health program? We do herd health checks with our vet every two weeks. He also oversees our vaccination program and makes vaccine recommendations. Our hoof trimmer visits every two weeks. On average, our cows are trimmed two times per lactation - before dry up, at 150 days in milk and any time there's a hoof issue. Carl's focus is to get cows and heifers off to a solid start after calving. Any cows that calve with twins are pumped with electrolytes for the next two days. All later-staged cows are given Bovikalc. We have two post-fresh pens, one for each, heifers and cows. Each morning, Carl takes time to walk these pens to identify any problem cows. First-calf heifers stay in the fresh pen for approximately three weeks and aren't moved until they're in good condition. Cows stay for two weeks.
What does your dry cow and transition program consist of? Cows are treated with Quartermaster at dryoff and high producing cows also get Orbeseal. All cows are vaccinated three times at the end of her lactation and during dry period: three weeks before dryoff, at dryoff, and three weeks before calving. Pre-fresh heifers are vaccinated three times as well at 80, 60 and 21 days prior to calving. We use two pens for dry off and close-up (less than 21 days due) cows.
What role does genetics play in your production level and what is your breeding program? We select proven bulls out of the top 99th percentile from several different AI stud companies. Inbreeding is kept to a minimum. Select Sires maps all cows in their first lactation and continues to genetically mate after that. We are also on ABS's Young Sire program. Cows are bred to young sire bulls after their second breeding.
What would you say are the three most important factors for you that helped you attain your current herd average? Explain. The first factor is sand bedding and cross ventilation in the freestall barn. In late 2008, we made the shift to sand bedding and cross ventilation. Sand has increased cow comfort in our barn dramatically; when our cows are not eating or being milked, they're laying down in stalls. Sand bedding has also led to better whole herd foot health, in particular, less white line disease because they're not slipping on the cement anymore. Adding a cross ventilation system to our freestall barn resulted in better air quality and less respiratory problems as evidenced with very few cows in the sick pen. Another added benefit is that the barn stays cooler on hot, humid summer days with more consistent air flow throughout the entire facility.
The second factor is quality feed and forages. Our forage program is the foundation of our pursuit for top milk production and optimum cow health here at Carlson Dairy. Sixty percent of our cows' diets are forage, so it's imperative that we do everything we can to put up quality forages on our farm. This includes proper harvesting, adequate packing and storage, inoculant use, and harvesting at late bud stage in a 30-day cutting window.
The third factor is the team of people we work with: quality employees and a core team of business and dairy experts. We understand that our employees are tremendous resources and one of our biggest assets. In addition, to help guide us, we've focused on assembling a core team of business and dairy experts who share in our desire for improvement and excellence. This team ranges from the dairy business consultant we've used for the past 10 years, to the nutritionist who not only guides our nutrition program but who has also opened doors to resources that have improved our employee management and parlor procedures, to University experts who have provided us with assistance in improving milk quality and in designing our sand separation lanes. These people, along with many others, have introduced us to new ideas and the best practices of other dairies and businesses, which have allowed us to hand-pick those ideas we believe will work best on our farm.
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