The Elliott family, from left: David, Becky, Rodney, Dorothy and James.
Just seven years after they sold their small dairy in Ireland, the Elliotts are milking 1,950 cows at their South Dakota dairy and building a second one nearby.
For Irish transplants Rodney and Dorothy Elliott, the journey to owning and managing a successful dairy in South Dakota proves the American Dream is alive and well.
Just seven years after they sold their family’s 140-cow dairy in Ireland, the Elliotts are milking 1,950 cows at the dairy they bought in late 2005 near Lake Norden, S.D., and they’re building a second dairy nearby. They shared the story of their Drumgoon Dairy at a Virtual Farm Tour Oct. 4 at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
In May 2006, the Elliotts began constructing their new Drumgoon Dairy, located along the I-29 corridor in eastern South Dakota. (They named the dairy after their farm in Ireland.) By December of that year, they were milking cows. In 2008, the Elliotts expanded from 1,600 to 1,900 milking cows.
Today, their herd consists of crossbreds of Holsteins, Jerseys and Swedish Red, with their total livestock numbering 3,800. They have a rolling herd average of 24,700 lb. and a somatic cell count that averages 215,000. They milk 3x daily in a 24x24 parallel parlor. Milk cows are housed in a freestall 640’ x 300’ cross-ventilated barn with 1,900 stalls. Drumgoon Dairy also employs 25 full-time and three part-time people. Most of their employees are Hispanic.
The Elliotts have focused their dairy’s efforts on cow comfort and raising heifers. For calf management, calves are moved to automated milk feeders in the calf barn after two to three days. Calves are placed in one of four pens that are fed by two automated feeders. Milk replacer is offered through the system. When calves are weaned, they move to the weaning barn and progress through a series of pens. Their diet consists of a weaning pellet, along with grass hay.
|Drumgoon Dairy's second facility should be ready for milking by December 2013.
Everything related to the herd -- from registering herd births to milk production to deaths -- is recorded in the dairy’s computer. "If something can’t be measured, we cannot fix it," Rodney told the audience.
The dairy also employs Flow Meters to determine how much milk is produced that day and it uses rumination collars on cows. The Elliotts implemented SCR activity monitors from Semex about a year ago. Those efforts have helped increase the dairy’s pregnancy rate to 24%-27% and cut its death loss to just below 4%.
The Elliotts like the air flow of the ventilated barns, and find they have very few fly problems because of the constant air flow.
Drumgoon Dairy owns 430 acres and grows corn and alfalfa. The Elliotts rent another 200 acres of pasture land. Most of their feed is purchased from local sources.
"We have a flat pad for 30,000 tons of corn silage, hay and straw in round bails kept outside," Rodney said. "We also have a 12-bay commodity building for grains and inputs. We will not put feed on dirt."
For manure management, Drumgoon Dairy uses a sand lane and two settlement ponds. Manure is stored in three earth-bank lagoons. Lagoons hold a nine-month storage of 18 million gallons. The dairy’s manure is used to grow crops locally. Pumping costs are shared between the crop farmers and the dairy.
"We recycle sand to reduce sand usage," said Rodney. "Annually, about 25 million gallons of liquid fertilizer is produced. The cost of pumping liquid fertilizer to crop farmers through the three-mile pipeline is shared. We contract about 7,500 acres for manure application."
The Elliotts’ new dairy is under construction and is expected to be completed by December. They have a new permit to increase to 5,000 animals with 2,300 milking cows. The new facility will have a double-30 subway milking parlor.
Drumgoon Dairy gives dairy tours and hosts local and international interns. Quality Liquid Feeds sponsored the Elliott’s Virtual Farm Tour.