Dairying with 2,700 cows, Siemers Holsteins has been operating at the same site for more than 120 years.
It was about five and a half years ago that we decided to put cows first. We knew we wanted to switch from mattresses to sand, but our layout made it impossible. At the time, we had way too many hock abrasions. Our somatic cell count and breeding weren’t good enough. We had too many injuries and not enough longevity.
From the outside, our numbers were OK, but we knew we could do better. Then came the fateful day that we visited a dairy that had installed a flush flume and moved to sand, and we knew we could do it!
From there, we kicked it in high gear and added a 20-million-gallon lagoon; an additional barn for 800 more cows; built sand lanes to capture, store and re-use sand; enlarged our parlor; added feed storage; and remodeled every freestall on our dairy. This was a huge and costly project, but we became better dairy people almost overnight.
We now sell more cows for dairy than we cull, and every parameter you can measure on a dairy farm got better. I tell this story to illustrate that if you are passionate about cows, like my entire family is, and put cows first, some cool things will happen.
To keep cows happy, healthy and pregnant really encompasses everything that happens on a dairy, from the day they are born all the way through. The goal for every member of our team, supported by all the protocols that are in place, is to provide everything that an animal needs to reach her potential. Different dairies can have differences in protocols, but what I am talking about is a culture that puts cows first.
It’s hard to talk about the cows without mentioning calf and heifer management, as it is the foundation to a good cowherd. After working hard to raise healthy, big-framed heifers, it’s time to get through calving without too much stress. On our dairy, most heifers carry embryo transfer calves, which can sometimes conflict with "no stress."
All of our 2-year-olds, from prefresh on, live in pens with other 2-year-olds only. Having six-row barns, we have some feedbunk competition, but asking a fresh 2-year-old to compete with older cows isn’t a fair fight. All of the breeding is done in house with timed AI, doing no heat detection. Using this strategy results in a calving interval of 13.2 months, and we average 2.2 serves per pregnancy.
The best medicine is always preventive, and we really focus on a full vaccination and foot-care protocols. Our foot trimmers are at the dairy every week to trim cows going dry, mid-lactation, prefresh heifers and anything else that needs it. We also work hard at heat abatement, using fans, sprinklers and high-pressure misters.
Good health on any dairy is really only as strong as the weakest link. The only problem with that is if you properly fix the weakest link, now you have a new weakest link. I guess they call that continual improvement.
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