September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
A platinum award was bestowed upon Rock Bottom Dairy at the 2011 Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) annual meeting held last November in Kansas City, Mo. The DCRC gave a platinum award to four herds from across the nation as a way to salute their high reproductive efficiency.
Rock Bottom Dairy is owned and operated by Bernie Bakker and his family. Bernie and his wife, Rachel, have three children: Micah, 11; Olivia, 12; and Jordan, 13.
The Bakker children help out around the farm by doing calf chores and assisting with their heifer raising operation. Bernie's brother, Dan, is the manager at Rock Bottom Dairy.
Bernie and Dan both agree that there is no deep secret nor magic bullet for high reproductive efficiency.
"A person has to do the right things and do them right all the time," Bernie said. "Having a good program is important, but the implementation of that program is key. We have an ownership and a manager who are highly dedicated to cow comfort and cow health. And all of our employees are trained to follow this program."
"Cow comfort is our top priority," Dan said. "We have a program that's simple and repeatable. And we are constantly striving to improve. We believe that there isn't anything that can't be done a little bit better."
The freestalls at Rock Bottom Dairy are bedded with sand, and waste sand is recovered via a sand separation lane. A hoof trimmer visits twice a month and herd health checks are conducted regularly. Cows are run through a foot bath four days per week.
The herd of Jerseys at Rock Bottom Dairy have responded favorably to the top-quality care they receive. Their RHA currently stands at 17,400 pounds of milk with 5.0 percent butterfat and 3.9 percent protein.
Once they freshen, the cows at Rock Bottom Dairy are given a 65 day voluntary waiting period before they are bred. Using the Presynch and Ovsynch protocol, cows receive their first service at between 65 and 72 days post-freshening. After this first service, visual heat detection is used to catch any cows showing signs of estrus. Low-tech, low-cost tail head chalk is used to help detect cows that are in heat.
"Kevin Schneider, our Semex rep, has helped us tremendously with our breeding program," Dan said. "He walks the cows every morning and services any that he sees are in heat. We do pregnancy checks every other week and any cow that is found to be open is put on Ovsynch."
"The biggest thing about reproduction is that you don't see an instant payback," Bernie said. "But in the long run, I think that reproductive efficiency can pay back more than a lot of other things."
One obvious benefit of an outstanding reproductive program can be seen in Rock Bottom Dairy's calf barn.
"We put up a new calf barn just two years ago and it's already too small," Dan said.
Rock Bottom Dairy's achievement seems remarkable given the fact that the dairy has been in operation for only ten years. And prior to that, the Bakkers had little dairy experience.
"Dan and I grew up on a swine operation near Canton, S.D.," Bernie said. "While in high school we both worked at a neighbor's beef operation, which helped give us some knowledge about working with cattle."
After he graduated from Northwest Iowa Community College with a degree in ag business, Bernie launched a dairy consulting business.
"Visiting a wide array of dairies over the years has allowed me to see how different people do different things," Bernie said. "I was able to gather a lot of insight as to what works and what doesn't work."
In 2002, a 100-cow dairy located near Rock Rapids, Iowa, came up for sale. Bernie and his family purchased the dairy and set to fixing it back up.
"The previous owner had converted the freestall barn into a hog feeding operation," said Dan, who was working in the construction industry at that time. "We had to replace the freestalls and do a lot of other things."
The dairy facility, which included a double-14 herringbone milking parlor, was originally sized for Jerseys. The Bakkers decided to keep it that way.
"Jerseys are a smaller cow, but they're also much more efficient," Dan said.
Over the past decade, Rock Bottom Dairy has steadily expanded by adding cows and building more facilities.
"Some of our herd expansion was from purchased animals," Bernie said. "But a substantial portion came by growing our herd from within."
As time went on, Dan began working more and more at his brother's dairy operation. About six years ago, Dan began to work full time at Rock Bottom Dairy.
"I started out helping with the construction of an addition," he said. "Then I began to assist with milking and feeding and cleaning the barns. It sort of grew from there."
The Bakkers think that it was actually an advantage that they entered into dairying with little experience in the field.
"We feel that our background enabled us to have a bit of a different perspective on things," Dan said. "Winning the platinum award from the DCRC is real thrill and a feather in our cap. But we couldn't have done it without Kevin's help and all the hard work from our valuable and dedicated employees."
"Most of our reproductive success is due to just following the basics," Bernie said. "But no matter how good we may be doing, we feel that there's always room for improvement!"[[In-content Ad]]
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