Four Keys to Health

January 23, 2014 07:21 PM

Pete Wiersma

Pete Wiersma
Buhl, Idaho

In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.


On our operation, there are four main areas of management that we focus on for herd health: nutrition, veterinary check, foot health and cow comfort.
The first is nutrition. Pasteurized colostrum is fed to all newborn calves, which are then sent to a custom raiser. Upon their return, we work with our nutritionist so that each age group is being fed appropriately, whether it’s for continued growth or reproduction.
In the milking herd, dry cows are fed a ration of alfalfa hay, straw and corn silage. When moved to the close-up pen, they are fed a transition ration of alfalfa hay, ground corn, corn silage and minerals.

After freshening, they are moved to the fresh pen and fed alfalfa hay, corn silage, ground corn, cottonseed, dried distillers’ grains, beet pulp and whey. With feed costs being the largest expense on the dairy, we observe feed bunks closely and adjust the amounts fed to each pen daily to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding.

Veterinary check is the second management area. All cows are vet-checked at 25 to 30 days post-calving, again at 60 days if no heat is observed, at 30 days after breeding and at 180 days pregnant to confirm. Any issues at any of these vet checks are dealt with accordingly. All breeding is AI, and heat detection is by observation and paint on the tail head. Our voluntary wait period is 40 days for first lactation cows and 50 days for second and higher lactation cows.

All fresh cows are observed daily for appearance and appetite, and temperatures are taken daily for the first 10 days. High temperatures are treated with Naxcel until normal. Cows appearing sick are removed to the hospital pen for evaluation and appropriate treatment. Mastitis and other health issues are also dealt with in the hospital pen. The decision to treat or cull is based on age, production history and appearance, among other things.

We have worked with our vets for more than 20 years. They have helped us develop and maintain an effective vaccination program for both our heifers and our milking herd.

A third area is foot health and hoof trimming. All second and higher lactation cows are trimmed for maintenance before they are moved out of the fresh pen. Any sore feet or longer toes are trimmed as needed. To prevent foot warts, we have a milker on each shift whose responsibility it is to observe and spray any warts with a product designed for that purpose. We have also added Zinpro to the mineral package to promote hoof hardness.

Cow comfort is the final emphasis area. Both our facilities are dry lot dairies, so we are vulnerable to the weather. During the winter months, straw bedding is provided as often as needed to keep the cows from having to lie on the frozen or damp ground. In the dry months, corrals are harrowed daily to prevent damp areas where cows would tend to congregate. Most corrals also have shades to keep the sun off in summer. Concrete walkways and holding areas are grooved or covered with rubber mats to provide secure footing.

In addition, we always try to stick to the routine and keep noise and commotion to a minimum when working with or around the animals. Mistreatment is never tolerated.

Wiersma’s recent prices

$19.65 (3.72 bf, 3.26 prt)

Cull cows

Springing heifers

Alfalfa hay
$195 to $220/ton


Ground corn

Corn distillers

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