Individual attention for each animal is key
The overall philosophy of individualized attention for each animal has been the driving force behind many of the management decisions and feeding advancements on Ruby Ridge Dairy in eastern Washington State.
Dick Bingen and his grandson, Kyle, offered a virtual tour of their farm at World Dairy Expo and described how they built the farm from scratch in eastern Washington, leaving behind the farm they originally ran in the western part of the state.
The Bingens had started farming in 1967, and their herd had grown to 1,000 head, but urbanization was crowding them out.
Bingen said the goal, when they chose to relocate, was to find enough land base with no ditches, streams, wetlands or urban threat. They looked in several other states in the U.S. and in Argentina before making the decision on their current location. The goal was to get away from the urban pressure.
It took them a while to get established after locating the right land base of 2,700 acres in 1999.
"We burned up all our equity on the land base, and it took until the next year to build the dairy, beginning with heifer corals," Bingen said. "Then we began moving feed to our new location and finally the cows and young stock.”
Before making the initial decision to expand to 2,300 cows Bingen and his wife, Ruby, considered whether they could still provide individual cow care and observance on a larger scale. They accomplished this goal by building their facilities to provide that opportunity.
“We know a single TMR will not work as dairy becomes more competitive," Bingen said. "Whether a farm is big or small, the needs of different cows vary.”
He learned this philosophy while visiting a Canadian farm that fed a TMR, but the farmer then walked in front of each cow with a cart of grain, feeding an additional scoop to those who he observed needed more on their ribs.
They monitor feed intake closely and have 10 milk cow groups, two dry cow groups and seven heifer rations.
“We are very aggressive about moving cows from pen to pen," Bingen said. "We walk through pens and regularly monitor cows. Fresh cows remain in that pen until they start mobilizing fat, and they are moved as they start to lose weight. They do six to eight pen moves during each lactation.”
This takes more management time, he said, but it pays big time.
“Our cows don’t have lactation curves,” he said. “They stay almost flat instead of peaking and then dropping off.”
When mixing that many batches of feed each day, it was necessary to build their commodity building and feed storage facilities in a way that would allow quick delivery of feed to the mixer and save wear and tear on the loader.
The Bingens auger all commodities into the mix and also have a flat floor in the commodity shed to allow use of a loader if for some reason the augers are not working.
“We cut our loader use by 60 percent,” he said. “We feed for no weigh-backs and have cut shrink considerably.”
Upwards of nine workers assist with this process, their work simplified by the ease of turning dials to release forages and supplemental ingredients, which are weighed in load cells. Bengen said that while they may transport their mixer box between the feed mills and animals more than most, this highly specialized system maximizes production over feed costs.
Even the calves and the heifers are organized in separate pens according to size and age. They breed at 15-16 months with a target age of 24 months for freshening. He said they tried freshening at 22 months but decided the animals are not mature enough: “We experienced a sophomore slump when we did that.”
Bingen’s grandson, Kyle, described the farm’s cropping program that includes corn silage, alfalfa and earlage.
While the challenge at the farm’s old location was excessive rainfall, now the harvesting of hay in high heat threatens its quality. For this reason, high-desert hay is imported for top-producing cows. In addition, corn crops average a 38-percent starch value.
To conserve money, water and organic matter, corn is no-tilled. In addition, manure is applied to open fields for nutrient preservation.
Converting quality seeds purchased from reputable companies into valuable feed is essential in today’s market, Bingen said. The Bingens invite seed companies to establish plots on their farm and compare the differences. They compare varieties with the goal of using a lower seed population without sacrificing yield.
“In our corn silage, we want fat stalks and good feed for our cows," Kyle said. "We high-chop everything, and we watch moistures. If we err, we want it to be on the wet side.”
Feed is stored in 10 well-managed bunkers. Each has sides lined in plastic to varying depths and is packed to appropriate densities depending upon the moisture level of its contents.
They are faced daily to minimize losses from heat and sun exposure and capped daily with a layer of oxygen-barrier film and a second of conventional plastic. Bengen emphasized the importance of ensuring the first forages in the bunkers are the first ones out.
The Bingens concluded by pointing out the companies they deal with and the consultants they rely on have been a big part of their success.