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

Comfortable cows, quality forages gives Hernke Dairy a 30,000-pound RHA

Cows are milked in a double-10 parallel parlor that was built in 1995. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Cows are milked in a double-10 parallel parlor that was built in 1995. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

Rahn, Marc and Dave
Herd manager: Ben Kruse
Hernke Dairy
Cannon Falls, Minn.
Goodhue County
810 cows

What is your current herd average, butterfat and protein? Our current rolling herd average is 30,555 pounds of milk with 1,160 pounds of fat and 962 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? Explain. Our first lactation cows and low group (consisting of cows that are one month away from dry off and cows that are listed as do-not-breed) are milked twice a day. The fresh cows and high group (consisting of cows that are second lactation or older) are milked three times a day.

Do you use BST? If so, what is your protocol? Yes, we use BST. First lactation cows are started on BST at 100 days fresh; however, a small group of the first lactation cows (about five percent) that have lower production are started at about 50 days fresh. Cows that are second lactation and above start at 80 days fresh. First-calf heifers are stopped at 204 days pregnant and mature cows are stopped at 208 days pregnant.

Do you contract your milk? Has it been successful for you? Yes, about 70 percent of our milk is contracted. Our marketing plan is a mixture of using puts and fixed pricing covered with a call. Being locked in allows us peace of mind whether the price is high or low. We won't get the high prices, but it keeps us from getting the low price. It helps us successfully minimize our risk.

Describe your housing and milking facility. All the cows are housed in freestall barns with deep bedded sand stalls. Heifers are in a three-row barn built in 2004 and mature cows are in a six-row barn built in the winter of 2008. All cows are milked in a double-10 parallel parlor built in 1995.

What is the composition of your ration? What has been one of your most recent changes that has been successful for you? We currently feed a high corn silage ration. We are running low on haylage because we're still trying to catch up from two years ago when we lost all our alfalfa to winter kill. Along with corn silage, the ration includes balage, molasses, cottonseed, corn gluten pellets, canola meal, dry corn, wheat straw and a protein mix. Two years ago we began making a daily farm mix that consists of our balage and a majority of our concentrates. This has dramatically improved our mixing accuracy and has saved us time each day.

Through the years you've been farming what change has created the biggest jump in your herd average? The first has been switching from sawdust and mattresses to sand bedding in 2005. The second is milking our mature and fresh cows three times a day.

What is your herd health program? We vaccinate with Bovishield-Gold, Endovac and Vision 7 at 50 days fresh.

What does your dry cow and transition program consist of? All cows are confirmed pregnant three weeks before dry off. At that time, Endovac and Vision 7 is given. Dry cows are then boostered with Endovac and Vision 7 at dry off. For first lactation cows we aim for a 60-day dry period and a 50-55 day dry period for mature cows. Cows and pregnant heifers are brought back to the dairy three weeks prior to calving. They are housed together on a bedded pack where they will calve amongst the group. We aim for 100 percent headlock stocking density in this pen. We raise our own heifer calves and feel that having quality heifers for replacements is important for a high rolling herd average.

What role does genetics play in your production level and what is your breeding program? We believe genetics is a key component to our production. Bulls are selected based on production, total fat and protein, somatic cell count score, udders and feet score, and daughter pregnancy rate. We have also started to watch rear teat placement and percent stillbirth. All cows are started on a presynch with a 14-day ovsynch repro program along with whole herd tail chalking with Select Sires. We use a voluntary waiting period of 60 days. We ultrasound at 30 to 36 days and then again at 65 days to determine if the calf is male or female.

What type of improvements would you like to make that would increase your rolling herd average even higher? We would like to try to reduce the ash content in our haylage and balage. This will help reduce the probability of cows with hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS). We can do this by cutting our alfalfa higher and storing haylage piles on asphalt or lime surfaces.

What would you say are the three most important factors for you that helped you attain your current herd average? Explain. The first is surrounding yourself and the farm with good cow people in order to achieve high production. We have a good vet, nutritionist and employees. The second is making great forages. Raising and chopping our own forages allows us to monitor the quality and get it harvested in a timely manner. The third factor is having comfortable cows. Having the cows on sand bedding just makes everything click.

Tell us about your farm. Hernkes Inc. was incorporated in 1960. Today, Rahn and his cousins, Marc and Dave, own and operate the dairy, cropland, a rock/lime quarry and a milk transfer division.
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