September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Sleepy Eye, Minn.
185 cows total
What is your current herd average, butterfat and protein? We have a rolling herd average of 28,601 pounds of milk, 1,076 pounds of fat and 838 pounds of protein. We are down a little from where we have been in the past because we recently bought a herd of 40 cows, but we are slowly working our way back up.
How many times a day do you milk? We milk two times a day. If we had enough animals to justify the labor costs of milking three times a day we would. Until we can have a solid four-hour shift for employees we will continue milking twice every day. We currently have one full-time employee and one part-time employee.
Do you use BST? We do not use BST. Labor is an issue - to take the time to do the shots in a timely manner and we only have a palpation rail. There are so many other things we can use our time on that would make us more money and be more efficient. We get good milk out of them by keeping them healthy so we never felt the need for it. Just keep the cows healthy and happy, and they will reward you.
Do you contract your milk? We do not contract our milk. We would like to in the future. It all takes time, research and management. This year we forward contracted 85 percent of our corn through July. We would like to lock in milk, too.
Describe your housing and milking facility. For the milking herd we have a compost bedded pack barn, using sawdust for bedding. Our dry cows are out on an open lot. We put up a round bale break for winter and have a little shade for summer. Soon our dry cows will be able to move inside. We're currently in the process of building a new barn. When it's complete, the majority of the milking cows will be in that barn, which will be sand-bedded freestalls. Our current barn will be split into two pens - one for dry cows and close up heifers and another for sick cows and fresh cows. The pack will then be bedded with corn stalks. Cows are milked in a double-12 parabone parlor.
What is the composition of your ration? What has been one of your most recent changes that has been successful for you? The TMR consists of 43 pounds of corn silage, 35 pounds of alfalfa haylage, 2.7 pounds of dry hay, and 24.8 pounds of grain mix, which is a complete mix from the local feed mill. The grain mix consists of soybean meal, linseed meal, cottonseed, dry corn, amino acid sources, vitamins and minerals. The ration is balanced for 52 pounds of dry matter intake. We push for high quality haylage, which usually runs from 23 to 26 percent protein. We also feed Rumensin. Our ration has not changed at all within the last two years.
Through the years you've been farming what change has created the biggest jump in your herd average? The uptake in our herd's production started about four years ago when we really started focusing on forage quality and consistency. That made the largest change over anything. We paid more attention to make sure corn silage and haylage were the right moisture, that our hay was in good shape when we cut it and to make the hay in a timely manner. We bought a merger/windrow inverter and a kernel processor for the chopper, which helped increase the quality. We learned the hard way our first two years of dairy farming how bad forage can cause a whole host of problems.
What is your herd health program? The cows are vaccinated with Bovishield post calving and again at dry off. They are also vaccinated with J-Vac twice during the dry period then once again at 100 days in milk. We just started this vaccination. We don't have a good facility to handle giving shots since we have a neck rail. The new barn will have headlocks, which will make vaccinating a lot easier. ScourGuard is given twice during the dry period.
What does your dry cow and transition program consist of? The cows only have one ration change - from dry cow diet to lactating diet. The dry cow ration consists of corn silage and a grain protein mix. They also get free choice grass hay. Post calving, we check temperatures and ketosis on all fresh cows. We keep a close eye on them. They are kept in the fresh cow pen for about two weeks. The vet comes about once a month to do a herd check.
What role does genetics play in your production level and what is your breeding program? We use aAa analysis. This helps us find the bull to meet those needs. It doesn't necessarily help us with production, but what we have found is that we now have consistent heifers. We don't have a lot of swings between heifers that are too dairy or too beef-like. We don't specifically breed for indexes or health traits. We use a wide range of bulls. We aim for over 1,000 pounds of milk, but ultimately just want a durable cow that isn't frail, but isn't too beefy. We want to be able to keep cows for many lactations. Our oldest cow is 13.5 years old; we strive for more cows like her.
What would you say are the three most important factors for you that helped you attain your current herd average? 1) Forage quality. 2) Taking proper care of our fresh cows. 3) Getting cows pregnant in a timely manner. These three things cover basically everything.