Quality, Efficiency Are Key

May 6, 2012 08:40 PM

CharlieDeGrootCharles DeGroot

Fresno, Calif.

DeGroot is a third-generation California dairy producer whose San Joaquin Valley operation milks 2,400 cows.




**Extended comments highlighted in blue

Since feed is one of our largest expenses, I spend a lot of time managing feedbunks. But, as we all know, feed doesn’t start in the feedbunk. Feed quality starts in the field.

We have the opportunity to grow all of our forages and alfalfa hay on-site.
The truth is that we must feed what we grow, which is why we put a tremendous amount of effort into growing top-quality feed.

My brother manages our farming operation, and we work closely together, along with our nutritionist, to make sure we are on the same page when it comes to feed quality. We grow corn silage, winter forage and alfalfa hay. The first cutting (March) and the last cutting (October) of alfalfa are bagged to make haylage. We do this to avoid rain-damaged hay at the beginning and end of our hay season. All other hay cuttings are baled.

We strive to improve our hay quality by leveling our fields for proper irrigation, selecting good varieties, keeping weeds and bugs down, and harvesting at the right time. Our relative feed value for alfalfa on our high cows is greater than 160, for our mid and low cows 140-160, and less than 140 for our dry cows and heifers. Every season, we are trying to improve our relative feed value to deliver a higher-quality feed to our cows.

Our winter forage is a mix of oats, wheat and barley. It’s usually harvested mid to late April and is fed to milking and dry cows as well as heifers. Corn is planted in May and is usually harvested all for silage in August. Corn silage is fed to milking and dry cows. We utilize dry hay, haylage, corn silage and winter forage year-round to maintain a consistent ration.

Along with growing and harvesting our feed, we must put up the best pile we can. We use ash from a cogeneration plant to make a surface for our feed piles that is packed almost as hard as concrete and has proper drainage for rainwater and potential run-off. We have also switched to drive-over piles for our silage. We have been able to get a much better pack and create a safer working area by having a much shorter pile. We use Silostop clear, with our regular black/white plastic, to cover all silage.

We have been using inoculants for many years as a part of our program. With the drive-over piles, inoculants and Silostop, we have been able to significantly reduce the amount of silage that needs to be hand-pitched off the pile. We also use an Easy Rake attached to the loader to face our silage piles. This reduces the amount of feed exposed to secondary fermentation and makes the pile safer for those working around it.

As far as feed delivery for our animals, we use a Supreme 1200 pull-type wagon. We have two complete setups so that, in the event one goes down, we don’t miss a beat. We also use FeedWatch to implement, monitor and track feeding activities. All rations are formulated by our nutritionist, and I input all ingredients and ration information into the program. Each feeder has an individual pass code to access his feeding shift so we can monitor accuracy.

We check feedbunks every morning and make adjustments to each pen as needed. Feedbunks are cleaned daily and weighed back into FeedWatch. All feed refusals are then fed back as a portion of our low-cow ration on a daily basis, thus eliminating any waste. Any feed left from our low-cow pens is fed as a portion of the ration to heifers. FeedWatch allows us to be accurate when it comes to feeding cows the correct ration at the right time and also monitor where we can make improvements.

From the field to the cow, and back again, we have tried to create a complete program that fits our needs. Having the land available to grow our crops has helped us to vertically integrate a portion of our operation and have more control over our feed costs. Using technology such as FeedWatch has greatly reduced the amount of feed wasted and given us the tools to manage more consistently. Our feed quality and feeding efficiency are key factors in the success of our operation.


DeGroot's Most Recent Prices  
Milk (3.4% bf, 3.26% prt, 80 lb.) $14.16/cwt. (over base), $15.86/cwt. (quota)
Cull cows $69/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,200/head
Alfalfa hay (delivered/premium) $300-340/ton
Corn (rolled) $277/ton
Cottonseed $395/ton
Bull calves $160/head
Canola $346/ton


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