Donald Van Hofwegen
Donald and Ingrid Van Hofwegen milk 2,700 Holsteins in Stanfield, Ariz.
When I was asked to focus on herd health and reproduction this month, it brought me back to when we made our move to our new facility. The two main things I wanted to focus on were genetics and how I could improve the quality of my herd and cow comfort.
On our old dairies, we had open lots with conventional fans and low-pressure water systems. The dairy itself was built to milk about 850 to 900 cows, and I was pushing 1,100 through 3X. Needless to say, this did not do much for cow comfort. The other dairy was a small, tight double-6 with small corrals, and we milked about 500 cows with minimal fans and cooling. I used some AI but mostly bull breeding.
Corral maintenance is something we really spend a lot of time on at the new dairy. The dry, warm climate is a huge advantage in keeping corrals clean and dry. In the summer months, we disc beneath the Saudi shades and keep about a 9" to 10" bed for the cows to lie down. The corrals are large enough so there is plenty of drying space for wet manure to be spread out.
In the winter, we scrape and harrow. We work each corral once a day when the cows are in the barn. The fresh-cow pens, and some high pens, get worked twice. With flush lanes and good access to manure removal, we have very few foot problems.
With cow comfort comes good breeding. For three years, we were using a timed AI program with very good results. Then came 2009, and it became cost-prohibitive. So we went to a tail-stripe, heat-detection breeding program.
We are having very good success with this, and I credit it to nutrition and cow comfort. This has allowed us to have a good heifer program, and I am seeing the results in the overall quality of the herd. We still have a ways to go to get genetics where I would like them, but I believe we are on the right track.
With the summers in Arizona as hot as they are, cooling is a big factor in keeping our cows comfortable and pregnant. With the fans and daily corral maintenance, we have been able to maintain small dips in breeding and milk production through those months. This time of the year, we are enjoying 70°F days and 50°F nights and small power bills.