July 26, 2021 at 2:40 p.m.

Milk production on the rise

Cow comfort a priority at Vanderstappens’ new facility
 The Vanderstappen family – (front, from left) Addison and Jack; (back, from left) David holding Owen, Clark, and Katie holding Lane –  milks 130 cows and farm 300 acres near Hebron, Illinois. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
The Vanderstappen family – (front, from left) Addison and Jack; (back, from left) David holding Owen, Clark, and Katie holding Lane – milks 130 cows and farm 300 acres near Hebron, Illinois. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    HEBRON, Ill. – The cows at Vanderstappen Farm love their new barn and milking parlor. The proof is in the bulk tank which is on a continual uphill climb in volume. Since moving into the facility May 20, milk production has gone up about 10 pounds per cow per day.

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    “Cows were milking just under 70 pounds when we moved in here,” said David Vanderstappen. “Now, they’re milking around 80 pounds per day, but we haven’t peaked yet.”  
    David and his wife, Katie, milk 130 cows and farm 300 acres near Hebron. They are the busy parents of five children: Clark, 10, Jack, 7, Addison, 4, and 3-year-old twins, Owen and Lane.
    “It’s kind of exciting because the cows seem to be going up in production every day,” David said. “I wonder how high they’ll go. Even when we dry up a cow, it doesn’t seem to affect the bulk tank.”
    David is the third generation on the farm his grandfather settled at when immigrating from the Netherlands in the late 1940s. David and Katie bought the farm from David’s parents in March 2016. A barn fire in 2018 put the couple on an update path sooner than expected.
    The 61-cow tiestall barn was a complete loss, but fortunately, no animals perished in the fire. A farm 7 miles away with a freestall and parlor setup served as the cows’ new home for the next three years. The Vanderstappens’ neighbors, Joel and Linnea Kooistra, had sold their cows and told David to bring his herd over when he called.
    “We had 20 people there that first morning to push cows through the parlor and a lot of trailers to help move cows,” David said. “We spotted the fire at 4:45 a.m., and by 10 a.m., we had all cows moved and milked. There was no bulk tank, but we got one put in and by that afternoon, we had saleable milk.”
    People continued to help the Vanderstappens push cows through the parlor for a week after the fire.
    “It was amazing,” Katie said of all the help they received. “The ag community and our family and friends pitched in a lot.”  
    David agreed.
    “The Kooistras were awesome too,” he said.
    The Vanderstappens did not rush to rebuild. Rather, they took time to think about what they wanted in a new facility. Other factors affected their timing as well. Milk prices were not good, and the Vanderstappens’ milk plant dropped them a few months after the fire with a 30-day notice. In addition, the Vanderstappens’ twin boys were born two months after the fire, keeping the young family’s schedule fully occupied.
    “You have to take your time and try to make good decisions,” David said. “There was no pressure to be out of our neighbor’s barn so we had the time we needed.”
    The Vanderstappens broke ground on their new barn last July.
    “Getting cows to milk more was one of our goals when building the new facility,” Katie said. “To make that happen, cow comfort was a top priority for us.”
    The six-row freestall barn contains 124 sand-bedded stalls and a feedrail.
    “We chose sand bedding because we feel it’s the gold standard for cow comfort,” David said.  “And I like the feedrail because it seems like cows have more freedom to eat.”
    The barn’s location on top of a hill provides fresh air and a constant breeze. Adjustable curtains and fans offer ample ventilation, and the barn has curtains on three sides to provide extra airflow. Instead of an open center, a Western Overchute roof design prevents the majority of elements from entering the barn while offering good ventilation.
    “We built the barn here on purpose,” he said. “There’s not a day the wind doesn’t blow up here. It’s good, fresh air for the cows.”
    The square freestall barn measures 110 feet by 110 feet. The facility is an L design with the potential to expand into a T shape if the Vanderstappens choose to add on. Cows are separated into two groups during the day but are grouped together at night with access to both sides of the barn.
    “We feed one TMR to all cows,” David said. “We wanted to keep it as simple as possible.”
    David and Katie were milking 91 cows at the time of the fire and grew the herd in the years that followed to its current size. The herd is primarily Holstein but also includes a handful of registered Guernseys and one Jersey.
     Cows are milked twice a day in a Dairymaster double-12 swing rapid exit parlor featuring amenities like udder lighting and in-floor heating.
    “It’s the best facility I’ve milked in yet,” David said.
    The single pulsation system ensures that once milking machines are on, they stay on.
    “They don’t squawk,” David said. “And cows milk out well.”
    An aspect of the parlor the Vanderstappens enjoy is the LED lights that illuminate udders and brighten the work area.
    “We get a lot of natural light in the parlor, but overhead light can be limited once the cows are in so the under udder lighting helps with that,” David said. “It cuts down on shadows, helping cows walk in with more confidence.”
    Cows receive a feed-to-yield pellet in the parlor. The more a cow milks, the more pellets she is offered. Cows are given half a pound when they enter the parlor and receive more while milking according to production levels. Distribution is done automatically. Feed is located in bins above the stalls and drops through a tube into a trough.
    “We open up the parlor and everyone comes in nicely,” David said. “We don’t typically have to fetch anyone until the last group and it’s mostly younger cows.”
    Katie usually milks in the morning while the kids are sleeping and also enjoys milking in the new parlor.
    “We were looking for an efficient milking system, and this is perfect for us,” she said.
    The Vanderstappens use their parlor’s company MooMonitor system for rumination and activity detection.
    “The monitors are really nice,” David said. “We’re catching cows in heat and breeding when we need to. If we have a sick cow or a cow that’s off, we’re catching that too. Cow health has been really good here. It’s peace of mind for a dairy farmer when cows are healthy.”
    David uses his cell phone and a sort gate in the barn to easily sort cows in heat into a separate pen for breeding. The multipurpose space contains 19 headlocks and is also used for pregnancy checks, as a maternity area for springing heifers or as a place for a slow cow to take a break.
    “We have a lot of options with this area,” David said.
    The Vanderstappens also built three months’ worth of manure storage and an asphalt feed pad for corn silage and byproducts next to their new facility – a modern barn that is delivering the ultimate in cow comfort and helping the Vanderstappens reach their production goals.
    “We wanted to get away from old facilities eventually, and now we have plenty of room to work with and space to expand if we want to in the future,” David said. “But we couldn’t have got here on our own. We’re very appreciative of those who helped us get to where we are today.”



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