Eliminating bottlenecks on the farm

Dan Hansen
Now Media Group


The second of the 2016 Cow College sessions at the Fox Valley Technical College Regional Center featured Dr. Gordie Jones, DVM, who shared valuable information gleaned from several decades working as a large animal veterinarian, nutritional consultant and technical services specialist for Monsanto Dairy.

Currently he is an independent dairy consultant and managing partner of Central Sands Dairy in Adams County that houses 3,500 Jersey milk cows and 600 dry cows in four-row freestall barns and a six-row dry-cow barn.

The herd is milked in a 72-cow rotary parlor, with a daily milk production of 64 to 70 pounds per cow. Cows are bedded on sand and have a somatic cell count of 125,000 to 150,000. The farm also utilizes a methane digester.

'One of the very first things you must know about me is my reverence for the dairy cow,' Jones began. 'She is the reason we have civilization; she truly is the foster-mother of the human race. She gives cheese, other dairy foods and her meat, and she has protected us from smallpox. All of us owe the dairy cow a great debt, and I have devoted my dairy veterinary career to taking care of her and making her comfortable.'

He stated the dairy industry over the past 25 years could be summed up in one word: change. 'In Wisconsin, we've gone from over 2 million cows and 50,000 herds down to about 1.25 million cows in 10,000 herds.' Jones noted. 'The average dairy producer will double the size of his herd four times during his life.'

Achieving excellence is size neutral. It doesn't matter whether there are 20 cows or 2,000, and bottleneck can occur on any size dairy.

'However, as dairy farms increase in size, the bottlenecks can seem overwhelming to everyone,' Jones acknowledged, 'and they become difficult for some people to understand.'

Identifying bottlenecks

Jones says there are three circles on every dairy farm that we need to understand, and if we really understand them, most bottlenecks become apparent.

The first circle is the 24-hour circle or what a cow does 24 hours a day. Things to consider are how often she's milked, how long she spends in the parlor and holding area, how long she is locked up to be found in heat. Also important is when her feed arrives and how long the manger is empty.

'Just keep asking yourself what does 24 hours look like in the life of a milking cow, and also what does 24 hours look like in the life of the dry cows and heifers,' Jones advised.

The second circle starts at the maternity pen, and covers a year in the life of a cow. Another way to looks at this circle is how the just-freshening cow gets back to the fresh pen a year later.

According to Jones, the information related the cow's 12-month circle should include the following:

·Where she freshens,

·When she's moved into the fresh pen and how long she in the fresh pen;

·When is she's moved into the breeding pens, when breeding starts and stops;

·How many rations she's fed;

·When she's dried off and how long is she dry;

·How many, and what, dry-cow rations she's fed, and;

·How labor is detected, and when she's moved to be by herself to calve.

The third circle also starts at the maternity pen, but this circle belongs to the calf. The circle is what two years look like in a calf's life. Information includes:

·When she's fed colostrum and how much she's fed;

·Where she housed and fed until weaning;

·How many calves are together in the weaning pens;

·How many heifer rations she's fed;

·Where she's housed until breeding age and when she's bred, and;

·How she's handled at first calving.

Keys to excellence

Jones emphasizes that improving dry-cow management, feed nutrition and cow comfort will not only improve herd heath but also lead to increased milk production and profits in the shortest amount of time.

'Cow comfort is first and forage is king,' he said. 'Improving pregnancy rates means you keep more cows, a good dry-cow programs stops early fresh-cow losses, and milk quality is everything.'

He said there are only three things a cow should do: 'She should stand to eat and drink, and while being milked, and all the rest of the time she should be lying down chewing her cuds after being well fed.'

Cow comfort begins with proper temperature, air quality and ventilation, Jones stressed. 'The ideal temperature for a dairy cow is 40 degrees,' he said.

Proper bunk management also is a key to excellence. 'High quality feed is vital, as is the ration formula, bunk design and space,' Jones emphasized. 'Cows are a slow-moving prey species designed to eat as much as they can as fast as they can, so be sure to give them more than 50 percent of their feed right away in the morning, and keep pushing it up. Remember, that first bite is for maintenance, but the last bite is for an extra 2.5 pounds of milk.'

Freestall failures

Bottlenecks often are found in the freestall barn, according to Jones. 'Freestalls fail due to a lack of proper cushioning, improper neck rail placement, lunge-space limitations and a lack of fresh air and poor vision. Cows should not be able to twist their body around while lying in their stalls,' he said.

Jones says neck rails are critical for cows entering and leaving the stalls. 'Low neck rails contact cows at the withers during entry,' he noted. 'Optimal hight is 44-46 inches off the rear curb, and they should be 66 inches long from the rear of the useable curb.'

He noted the most popular bedding materials include sand, mattresses and dried manure. 'Bedding should absorb moisture, provide a sufficient cushion and prevent friction.'

Jones favors sand bedding because its inorganic and reduces bacterial growth, and recommends using 40-70 pounds per stall per day. 'Use a slope of 1-2 percent for effective flushing and pitch a 1/4-inch per foot to the curb,' he advised.

Value of SOPs

Ensuring that every farm employee knows and thoroughly understands his duties is one of the most important elements in a successful dairy operation.

'One of the most rewarding things I did at Central Sands Dairy was to make job descriptions,' Jones said. 'Much of my time during the first year was helping everyone understand their jobs. Once people understand their jobs and know what's expected of them, they're happier in their work.'

Jones advised that all dairy personnel be certified in their positions. 'Every person who is certified at Central Sands has passed either an oral of written exam,' he said. 'Making the job description and establishing standard operating procedures is probably the most important thing I've done on the dairy for getting the best performance from people.'