Nick Vande Weerd
The Vande Weerd family is majority owner and manager of Pleasant Dutch Dairy, which milks 1,400 Holsteins.
I would consider cow comfort one of the top priorities of a dairy. Cows can’t talk, but they can still communicate when they’re not comfortable.
We experienced a time when our stalls were not as comfortable as they could be, and the cows let us know. Also, curtain management has proven to be important in both winter and summer.
We were experiencing cows standing for what we considered excessive amounts of time. We increased the amount of sand in our stalls and still continued to observe cows standing excessively. We then made adjustments to our neck rail and still continued to see cows stand.
Finally, when walking through the barns with our nutritionist, we kneeled down in the stalls and discovered the culprit. The front of the stalls had a small layer of soft sand, and underneath that was compacted hard sand. It felt like concrete.
We discovered that the stalls had been originally filled with unwashed sand that contained some clay, which caused the fronts of the stalls to become hard. In response, we rented a mini-excavator and cleaned all of the sand out of our stalls. We then refilled the stalls with washed sand. The cows immediately stopped standing after we removed the old sand.
Fresh air keeps your herd healthy. In South Dakota, the winters are cold and windy, but we do not want to completely close a naturally ventilated barn. If we close up the barn too much, condensation will build and the air quality inside will deteriorate. The moist air will cause pneumonia in the cows.
We learned to always keep the top curtains open at least a foot. The only exception has been if snow was blowing inside the barn. Then we close them to keep the snow out but open them once it stops snowing. In a naturally ventilated barn, curtains aren’t for keeping cows warm; they are for keeping the wind off of the cows.
In addition, keeping fresh air flowing through your barns in the winter will keep moisture from building up and increase herd health.
Optimizing cow comfort and herd health will always be an important part of dairying.
Vande Weerd’s recent prices
Milk $19.10 (3.5 bf, 3.05 prt)
Cull cows $70-$85/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,270-$1,550/head
Alfalfa hay (milk cow) $200-$250/ton
Soybean meal $490/ton