More Space, More Milk

October 14, 2009 07:00 PM

*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Louie Kazemier
Rickreall, Ore.
Twenty years ago, cow comfort was not a buzzword. Very few people knew or understood how a cow thinks or what makes her happy. Today, cow comfort is an absolute necessity if our animals are to be productive. There has been so much written and studied through the years on this subject.

In our industry, overcrowding is an often overlooked aspect of cow comfort. Last year, we finished a new dry-cow barn and large heifer barn. This let us to go to a "one cow, one stall, one stanchion” rule. We group our animals by their days in milk, building a pen as they come fresh.

We used to put 110 animals together
in a pen designed to hold 92 animals. When we studied a group that was not overcrowded, it was worth 8 lb. of milk throughout their lactation.

We also saw a marked difference in lameness and breeding issues. It was too good to be true, so we did
another trial. This time we saw a 6-lb. difference. That led to crunching the numbers to justify the new barn that holds 700 dry cows and heifers.

Don't get me wrong. There is no substitute for comfortable stalls, good bedding, hoof trimming or nutrition. But we all need to get more efficient. Maybe some of us could "retire” 10% of our herd and realize the same amount of milk production.

On another note, from one dairyman to another: We are going through some unprecedented financial losses and challenges in an industry that we all love. We are all feeling the pain. Our families and employees feel the pain. At times, it feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and no one to help carry the load.

We are all rapidly running out of equity to borrow against. Our operating lines have been maxed out for a long time now. In short, it's crunch time in our industry. Some of us will make it, some of us will not.

Through all this, I have taken some time to reflect on the current situation and how we, as proud farmers, handle this added stress. Some of us will turn to alcohol and other vices to cope. This reaction will ultimately cause more pain in the end.

Some of us are in marriages that are stressed and stretched and our kids feel the tension in the house. Some of us are just plain pissed off at the world. This is not a time to segregate ourselves from the ones we love the most. It's a time to realize what we have: our families and faith.

In times like this, we need to lean on our faith in a God who loves us, and lean on our families. Do not run from either of these. Do not believe the lies that are rumbling around in our heads that say, "It's my fault, work harder, I'm a failure, I'm a lousy husband, or, She's a lousy wife.” These are all lies.

There are good times ahead for our industry. It's in the middle of tough times that I refine who I am as a businessman, farmer and more importantly, a husband and father. I have a sign hanging in my office that says, "Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make life.” Good advice in tough times.

Hang in there!

Kazemier's August Prices  
Milk (3.55% bf, 2.9% prt): $11.24/cwt. (gross)
Cull cows: $46/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,000/head
Top-quality alfalfa: $160/ton
Flaked corn (2009 contracted): $280/ton (spot $175/ton)
Cottonseed:  $275/ton

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