FT. ATKINSON - While overall management sets the stage for dairy success, genetics is the star behind exceptional milk production.
Tom Kestell, owner of world-renown Ever-Green-View Holsteins in Waldo, WI, has long been proving that quality genetics in cattle and feed, along with consistency and individualized care, makes a tremendous difference.
He and Steve Woodford, his nutritionist of 30 years, have achieved a rolling herd average of 40,000 pounds of milk per cow.
Actually, make that 44,600-plus pounds.
"Our goal here is not to have a high rolling herd average. It's to give our cows the best chance to do as well as they can, and let the results speak for themselves," Kestell told a international audience during January's "Hoard's Dairyman" webinar.
The results have been loud and clear.
Aim for quality
Ever-Green-View has given the dairy world My Gold-ET, who set a 365-day record of 77, 480 pounds of milk, breaking the record set by her dam, MY 1326, who was the World Milk Production Leader from 2008-15.
"That's been our goal and focus - cows that milk," Kestell said, noting the farm's fifth cow just went over 70,000 pounds of milk.
During the presentation sponsored by Quality Liquid Feeds (QLF), Kestell and Woodford boiled it down to optimal cow care, consistent nutrition, and investing in the best dairy cattle and forage genetics available. "Over time, you get what you breed for," the dairy man observed.
Tom and Gin Kestell began at Ever-Green-Holsteins in 1975, two years into farming together. Today, they milk 85 head of cattle, sell embryos and animals, and crop 600 acres in partnership with their son, Chris, and his wife, Jennifer.
The Kestells' winning recipe is based on forage and feed quality, with "consistency, consistency, consistency!" baked in.
Their tie stall barns, constructed in 1903, have been updated for optimal comfort with ventilation, long-day lighting and waterbeds for everybody, including the dry cows and all heifers.
In 2001, the farm began building the first of 11 greenhouse barns to house calves, dry cows and heifers. Although the structures can get cold, Kestell finds them light, airy and appealing. "The environment is amazing, compared to other housing," he said.
Young calves are fed pasteurized milk, and the farm's dedicated, long-serving employees are cross-trained for milking, cow and calf feeding, and related chores.
Feeding for a 40,000 RHA
Ever-Green-View's rations are based on home-grown, consistent, quality forage. Kestell is admittedly very, very fussy about his alfalfa, which has twice won the Forage Super Bowl Contest at World Dairy Expo. He harvests in a hurry with three haybines.
The two-year average for alfalfa haylage is 21-26 percent CP and 34-39 percent NDF, with RFV holding between 150-200, thanks to a choice of six silos. The ration runs 60-70 percent forage.
High moisture corn is harvested at 27 percent moisture and stored in Harvestore silos. Cows get just 8-10 pounds HM corn a day, which is rolled on the way out, not ground.
BMR corn silage has been on the menu for over 10 years. In 2016, Kestell went to high chop BMR, cutting the crop about 36 inches high. The feed's two-year average is NDF in the low 30s, over 40 percent starch, 64-70 percent NDFD 30 hour.
"It's an outstanding feed; it seems to milk and feed really well. I absolutely love it," Woodford said.
Before the move to high chop BMR corn silage, dry matter intake was 60-64 pounds. The switch sparked an intake bump to 66-67 pounds. "The cows really responded to high chop," Woodford said.
The efficiency of the herd is extremely good, he noted, citing production of more than two pounds of milk per pound of intake.
The ration for Ever-Green-View's cows is not high fat, not high protein and really not any different than Woodford's other clients. It typically runs 16 percent protein, 27-29 percent NDR and 5 percent fat, with corn silage about 55-60 percent of forage DM.
Getting cows pregnant
The farm's voluntary waiting period is longer than typical, usually about 150 days in milk, with about two services per conception. With some cows milking over 200 pounds a day, Kestell's focus is on the cow, rather than the calendar.
The average lactation length on DHI is 340 days, reflecting a farm goals of keeping cows milking at a high level for a long time. "We had some two-year olds over 170 pounds last month and ten cows over 200," Kestell said. "Some are fresh a long time, and still milk."
"It's pretty remarkable. They just don't drop off," Woodford added.
Happily, the farm doesn't have a lot of difficulty getting cows bred. In Monday's herd check, nine of the ten cows were pregnant.
The Kestell philosophy is production per unit. "I know there's lots of farms that say, we just have to milk more cows to make a living. In many cases, that's simply not true," he said, urging farmers to plug profit leaks.
"If there's anything I learned from FFA, it's know what your cows are testing and get rid of unprofitable cows," he noted.