Hillcrest Farms is home to four generations of the Rodgers family, plus 420 milking cows and 470 heifers.
The Central Savannah River Area of Georgia is known for its hot and humid summers. From December to April, eastern Georgia gets most of its rain, and the muddy environment becomes a huge problem. We moved from a pasture to freestall housing in 2009 to combat the stress the conditions created for our cows.
Prior to this move, not only did production suffer, but the incidence of clinical mastitis increased dramatically July through mid-October. The comfort of the sand-bedded freestalls helped not only to increase production but also to provide a better environment over a pasture with shade trees.
Prior to the freestall being built and as our cow numbers grew, we went from 300,000 to 700,000 SCC. We moved the milking herd into our freestall barn in August 2009 with an outside temperature of 102° and 90% humidity. Within 60 days, the SCC dropped to 400,000. Since then, we’ve made progress and are currently at about 200,000 SCC.
There are several ways we combat mastitis. We use a dry-cow treatment and Orbeseal at dry-off as well as give a J5 vaccine at dry-off and 21-day pre-partum. We installed the ALPRO herd-management system in 2008, which has allowed us to monitor milking procedures.
Prior to 2009, we had a fair milking procedure, milked 2X, dealt with washing muddy cows and had a 6½-minute unit-on time. After switching to the freestall barn, we have a much better prep procedure, milk 3X and have reduced unit-on time to an average of 4 minutes or less.
We refill the freestall beds with clean, recycled sand once weekly, groom the sand beds daily, and any manure that gets in the freestall is raked out by hand three times daily.
We would like to see a further decrease in SCC in the future and have been trying different pre- and post-dips during the last year. We recently changed to one of the triangle inflations to see if that yields an improvement in teat-end condition and/or a further lowering of SCC.
Being a closed herd with plenty of heifers raised internally, we have aggressively culled chronic problem cows and still have excess heifers to sell to other dairies.
We are able to milk 380 cows with minimal overstocking in our freestall facility. We believe this keeps stress levels low and cow comfort high. We cull aggressively for production and milk quality when cow numbers begin to exceed the 380-cow benchmark.
We are developing a 200-head heifer-growing facility on a newly acquired farm. Several rented pastures on which we have been raising heifers only have ponds as the water source. At the new heifer facility, the heifers will only have clean well water to drink. This eliminates the heifers from wading into stagnant ponds.
Rodgers’ recent prices
$24.21 (3.84 bf, 3.1 prt)