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

Working with what they've got

Kuballs host U of M Summer Dairy Series tour
Bob (let) and Nate Kuball farm in partnership with their wives, Debbie and Shannon, on their 160-cow dairy near Waterville, Minn. On July 10, The Kuballs hosted the first of the U of M Extensions Summer Dairy Series.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN
Bob (let) and Nate Kuball farm in partnership with their wives, Debbie and Shannon, on their 160-cow dairy near Waterville, Minn. On July 10, The Kuballs hosted the first of the U of M Extensions Summer Dairy Series.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN

By By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

WATERVILLE, Minn. - The Kuballs constantly look for ways to improve their farm, but most of the time they won't choose the most expensive route.
"We work with what we've got," Nate Kuball said.
Dairy farmers gathered at the Kuball family dairy farm on July 10 for the first tour in the 2012 University of Minnesota Extension Summer Dairy Series. In addition to a tour of the Kuballs' dairy, the gathering included a short seminar from the University of Minnesota's Noah Litherland about different ways to moisture test silage and keeping cows cool in the heat (which can be read in the Dairy Connections portion in the first section of the Dairy Star.)
Nate and his wife, Shannon, farm in partnership with Nate's parents, Bob and Debbie, on their farm near Waterville, Minn. The Kuballs milk 160 cows and farm 800 acres.
"Good forages - that's what we strive for here and how we make good production," Nate said.
Their corn silage bunker has enough space for eight months of storage. The bunker was built in the 1990s and added onto two more times. It used to have a back wall until they took it out a few years ago.
"We're really happy that we only have low spoilage here, especially since we took out the back wall. We're able to pack it better," Nate said.
The feed is double covered with plastic and the sidewalls are also covered.
"I wish we would have started covering the side walls sooner," Nate said.
The feed is taken off using a facer.
"That is one of the most important things we've ever done here for feed quality is using a facer," Nate said.
Haylage is stored in a pile on a cement slab wide enough for three bags - one for the first three crops.
"By the time we get to the fourth crop, the first bag is gone so we put it there," Nate said. "If we have a fifth crop we have space on the dirt."
Haylage is also double layered with plastic and covered with tires.
"Having a double layer is more important to us than having a tire on every single space," Nate said.
They try to get a 26 to 28-day interval for their alfalfa haylage. Their first crop this year was harvested on May 10.
At this time, cottonseed, minerals and other additives are stored in three different sheds and one bin.
"It works for now, but I'd like a commodity shed. It's on our list of things to build in the future," Nate said.
In 2004, the Kuballs built a new freestall barn. The barn holds about 110 cows split into two groups - 65 cows in the early lactation group that is milked three times a day and the rest in another group milked two times a day. The barn was built with 10 fans on the west end for tunnel ventilation.
"We had been using tunnel ventilation in our tiestall barn and really liked it," Nate said.
However, too many of their cows were still crowding together during the hot times.
Last fall, they decided to put in baffles to make it more cross ventilated.
"We're really happy with how it turned out," Nate said.
Although the highest wind speed they've had in the barn was about nine miles per hour, it usually averages around 6.5 miles per hour. The baffles cost the family about $1,000, which Nate said has been an investment that has been worth the price.
"It really helps bring the air down to cow level," Nate said. "They definitely spread out (during the heat) after we put the baffles in."
Since they have baffles in their feed alley, a portion of each baffle is a curtain-like material and is able to be pulled up when the tractor with the mixer drives through.
They recently replaced the mattresses in the stalls, which are bedded with sawdust every other day.
"They were getting worn out," Nate said about the old mattresses. "The new ones have really helped with cow comfort."
Misters help keep the cows cool and go off every 15 minutes for three minutes at a time.
Manure is scraped out with a skidloader and into a gravity flow manure pit on the west side of the barn.
Also in 2004, the Kuballs upgraded their milking facility from an 80-stall L-shaped tiestall barn to a low-cost double-6 step up parlor.
"That's worked well for us and it only cost us $20,000," Nate said.
Since the parlor only took up one end of the tiestall barn, a portion of the barn was kept in 20 tiestalls, while the "L" of the barn was turned into freestalls with an addition for headlocks to feed the cows. There is also an area they turned into a maternity pen. The tiestalls are used for fresh cows or sick cows so they can be closely monitored.
The Kuballs still use the milking units they had before converting the barn. The units are kept and washed in the milkhouse, not the parlor.
"It's a little bit of a pain to haul the units and in and out of the parlor, but it works for the time being," Nate said.
The parlor can milk about 60 cows per hour with one person milking while another brings up cows and scrapes the barn.
"It's pretty labor efficient," Nate said.
The dry cows are housed in an older shed-turned-cow barn.
"It's another area we'd like to work on in the future," said Nate, pointing out a need for a better cooling system and a shaded area for the cows to eat.
A portion of the calves are housed in a lean-to on a hay storage shed they turned into animal housing.
"After we did that almost all our animals are on our site, which we like," Nate said. "When we put them in the new housing their weight gain went up and they improved. They're doing really well."
The rest of the older heifers are housed in a heifer shed they built in 2001. The oldest heifers in the last two pens of the six have access to pasture so the Kuballs are able to watch for heat.
In the fall of 2010, the Kuballs built a four-bay animal composting area.
"We don't use it much, but it's good to have it when we need it," Nate said.
Bob is the one to maintain that area, stirring the pile one week after a cow is put in, then every couple days after that. It takes about three months for a cow to fully compost, and then the Kuballs spread it on the field.
"The cost of rendering got to be too much," Bob said. "Sometimes it takes rendering awhile to come, too, so we though we would do it ourselves."
The organic matter used to compost is old feed and the manure and straw from the calf pens.
They received $16,000 from Natural Resources Conservation Service as a cost-share.
The Kuballs have two full-time employees and two part-time employees.
"It's been more of a challenge to figure out our labor structure," Nate said. "For full-time employees you need to get them an eight-hour shift so it was hard to do that."
Currently, the full-time employees milk the morning shift and feed the animals, which gives them eight to 10 hours each day. The part-time employees cover the evening shifts.
"We had a good turnout," Nate said about the summer tour. "It's great to be able to share ideas with other farmers."

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