September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Flash-forward to present-day, and Meyer Family Dairy is home to more than 1,400 milking cows, with an additional 1,200 head of youngstock also on site. Cows are housed in sand-bedded freestall facilities and milked three times daily in a double-20 parlor. Allen and Mike help with all day-to-day aspects of the 1,000-acre farm to keep it running, and they oversee 24 employees. Three of those employees include Allen's sons and Mike's brothers, Sam and Matt, as well as Mike's wife, Tracy.
The most recent addition to the Meyer Family Dairy is a brand new state-of-the-art nursery and grower barn, complete with an automatic milk feeding system. The idea was presented to Mike in the spring of 2012.
"Approximately two-and-a-half years ago, I was on a tour and was introduced to acidified milk group feeding to calves," Mike said. "We went on to research it; we did a lot of experimenting with it in one of our older barns here over the years with small groups, and, in August, unleashed it on a mass scale."
The facility was put up last spring; heifers moved into the building in late July, and the nursery opened up in late August. To Allen and Mike's knowledge, the feeding system is the only one of its kind in Wisconsin, and possibly the Midwest. Because the whole system is so new, Mike admits that there's been a learning curve, with progress being made each day.
"We certainly do not have it figured out yet," he said.
Calves are born in a maternity barn, where a single unit milking system is used to milk the fresh cow and colostrum is delivered to the calf. The farm also analyzes blood serum protein levels on all of its heifer calves as another protocol to ensure calves are getting the best possible start in life.
Once heifers enter the nursery and grower building, roughly 24 hours after birth, they are placed in groups of eight, which allows the farm to fill pens at a rate of about two-and-a-half pens per week. Each pen includes a supply of pasteurized, acidified milk that is stored and circulated to three calf nipples. Calves have free choice of that milk almost around the clock, nearly 23 hours a day, with the system only shutting down for the duration of a daily CIP wash cycle. In addition to milk, calves are also fed an 18 percent protein calf starter.
The new barn is bedded with shavings, with plans to switch over to straw during the colder winter months. Mike shared that other future goals include implementing a scale to weigh calves as they enter and leave the building.
"Eventually, we'd like to get a scale in," he said. "The DairyCOMP software has the ability to integrate the scale with our handheld computers and their RFID buttons, so there would be no data entry. You would put the calf on the scale, scan it [RFID tag], and it would record their weight."
There is room for about 200 calves in the nursery, where heifer calves live until they are weaned between 50 and 60 days of age. From there, they graduate to the grower portion in the barn's southern half, where they are fed a TMR consisting of alfalfa, corn and gluten and stay up to around 4-5 months of age. At that time, heifers move to a sand-bedded freestall barn until they reach 150 days pregnant.
The target for age at first calving is 23 months. Mike said the farm has focused on using 100 percent genomic sires nearly since the introduction of genomics to the AI industry.
"For us, it was an easy way to rapidly advance the genetics of the animals," he said. "It appeared to me as we looked at it, we got to almost skip and advance past a whole generation."
A reverse mate program is used when selecting bulls. Typically there are four bulls in a tank, and the technician uses a different bull in every pen. Cows are addressed if they can't be bred to a bull. He added that they predominantly look at three traits when selecting bulls to use. The primary trait is Productive Life. Mike believes that if a cow can survive in his facilities, she is a profitable cow. The second trait is DPR. The Meyers have selected heavily on DPR numbers and have seen much success in comparing those selected for DPR, versus those selected for other traits. Finally, the farm selects for milk.
Looking ahead, the future looks bright for Meyer Family Dairy, LLC. Although there are no immediate plans, the Meyers continually strive to make improvements to the operation. Whether implementing the latest technology in the industry, or adjusting daily protocols to increase efficiency, both Allen and Mike have plans to continue to move this second-generation dairy farm forward for many years to come.