Genetics play a big part in production at Zahbulls Holsteins. The Zabels want their calves to grow to be moderately-sized cows with good strength, have high production, and quality feet and legs, with a nice udder. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Genetics play a big part in production at Zahbulls Holsteins. The Zabels want their calves to grow to be moderately-sized cows with good strength, have high production, and quality feet and legs, with a nice udder.
PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Zahbulls Holsteins, LLC; Matt and Emily Zabel; Tim and Tammie Zabel
Plainview, Minn.
Wabasha County
205 cows

What is your current herd average, butterfat and protein? Our rolling herd average is 30,117 pounds of milk with 1,105 pounds of butterfat and 911 pounds of protein.

How many times a day do you milk? If you don't milk three times a day, have you tried it in the past? Explain. We milk twice a day. We used to milk three times a day, but we figured out we couldn't move the cows through the parlor fast enough. The prolonged standing time caused too much unneeded stress on the cows.

Do you use BST? If so, what is your protocol? Yes, we use BST. We start giving BST at 55 days in milk. They go off at 20 days before dry off.

Do you contract your milk? Has it been successful for you? We don't contract our milk.

Describe your housing and milking facility. Our cows are housed in two sand bedded freestall barns consisting of 146 stalls. They are fed outside in a H-bunk belt feeder. They are milked in a double-5 parabone parlor.

What is the composition of your ration? What has been one of your most recent changes that has been successful for you? Our ration consists of corn silage, haylage, balage, straw, high moisture shelled corn, a protein blend and cottonseed. The biggest change is that we use custom operators with large self propelled choppers to assure we make forages in a timely manner. We have been doing this for the past three years. Last year, half of our forages were harvested this way. This year it will be more than that.

Through the years you've been farming, what change has created the biggest jump in your herd average? Sand bedding has caused the biggest increase. In 2003, we switched from pasture mats bedded with chopped straw to sand bedding.

What is your herd health program? We have bi-weekly herd checks. They consist of ultra sounding at 32 days, confirming pregnancy at 60 days and checking again at 180 days before dry off. We also follow a strict vaccination protocol.

What does your dry cow and transition program consist of? We use Tomorrow dry cow tubes and Orbeseal teat sealant at dry off. The dry cows get moved to our other farm where they are fed corn silage, dry hay and mineral. Three weeks prior to calving, they are moved to a deep straw bedded pack pre-fresh pen.

What role does genetics play in your production level and what is your breeding program? Genetics have had a big impact on our production level. Many years of A.I. breeding has helped along with using genomics, genomic testing and embryo transfer. We are able to fine-tune what kind of cow we want. When choosing bulls, milk is the No. 1 factor we consider. Then, we also look at feet, legs and udder. Having a moderately-sized cow with considerable front-end strength is also important.

What type of improvements would you like to make that would increase your rolling herd average? We are in the process of building a new environmentally friendly facility three miles from our current site. The new barn will be a cross-ventilated sand-bedded freestall barn. Our current site cannot be expanded because it is very close to town and is surrounded on all sides.

What would you say are the three most important factors for you that helped you attain your current herd average? Explain. It's never one, two or three things. It's a lot of little things. Constant and intense management is needed to keep the farm running smoothly. Factors that contribute to a high herd average include genetics, cow environment (sand, sprinklers, fans and air flow), feed quality, communication with team members of the farm and working with a good veterinarian, among many other things.

Tell us about your farm. Our farm is a fourth generation dairy farm, which consists of our 205-cow registered Holstein milking herd and 500 acres of corn and alfalfa. We have three full-time employees and two part-time employees. We are actively involved in elite dairy genetics. Matt oversees and manages the day-to-day operation while his wife, Emily, feeds calves and keeps social media and website information up-to-date. Tim does the bookkeeping and helps wherever he's needed on the farm.