Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Super time in Atlanta

It's hard making a cow-print shirt look good, but I manage.

This past weekend's Super Bowl may have been a dud, but I had a blast with a few fellow dairy farmers at the SB Fan Experience event a couple of days prior to the big game. We were helping hand out free grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk to folks who passed by, giving away "Undeniably Dairy" medallions, and answering questions people had about dairy farming.

I'm not sure how many people stopped by our food truck during the two-day event, but there was steady traffic while I was there Friday afternoon. We were able to convince the majority of people walking by our setup to stop and enjoy a sample, and most seemed genuinely glad that they did. A few even asked me about the brand names of the cheese (Cabot) and milk (Mtn. Fresh Creamery) and if they were available where they lived. And these folks lived all over, too! About half of the people who stopped by were Falcons fans, but there was also a large contingent of Patriots fans that had come to support their team. The Eagles, Steelers, and Cowboys were well represented, but the Rams...not so much.

While most folks only stopped long enough for the free samples and UD swag, our group did have a few good conversations with people who were excited to meet "real life" farmers and learn about life on a dairy farm. On the whole, I believe we built up some goodwill and perhaps even spurred some folks to start including a little more dairy in their diets.

One final note. As you can see, we were dressed to mimic referees...only trading the traditional "zebra stripes" for a Holstein pattern. We each had a whistle and a cow-print penalty flag we could through, too. I was told these outfits were specially made for the event and not available for general purchase. That makes them a rare collector's item, and I'm willing to autograph and auction mine off. Bidding starts at $5k, let me know if you're interested.

I joined five dairy farmers from Georgia along with promotion staff to help give NFL fans an Undeniably Dairy experience.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford stopped by to sample our grilled cheese and milk and take photos with fans.
I had a great conversation with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier about what it's like living on a dairy farm.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What will happen to our dairy cows as we transition to beef?

"What will happen to your dairy cows?"

It's a question I've been asked several times over the last few months as I've mentioned our farm's gradual transition from dairy to beef, and there are really three different directions for our dairy herd to go.

Our dairy herd will naturally shrink by
breeding for more beef crossbreeds and
fewer Holstein replacement heifers.
The first direction (and most critical to our transition) is that we will shrink it by having fewer replacement heifers.  Until recently, our breeding program has been designed to yield roughly 80 Holstein heifers each year which would in turn join the milking herd once they have their first calf around two years of age. We changed strategies last year, which should result in roughly 60 Holstein heifers when our current calving season ends in a few weeks. We are currently breeding to only get roughly 30 Holstein heifers in the next calving season as we are focused more on the cross-bred calves we need to get our commercial beef herd established.

The second direction for our dairy cows is the beef market. Culling is a normal practice among dairies as we move out lower producing cows to make room for the replacement heifers. In our case, we send our cull cows to one of the local stockyards where they are bought and sent to slaughter. We have enough replacement heifers to keep our milking herd at its current level for another 2.5 years if we maintain our normal culling rate, so over half the cows we are currently milking will leave the farm through this process.

The third direction for our dairy cows is to be sold to other dairies. Once we get ready to close the book on dairy farming, we will look to sell the majority of our producing cows to dairies with expansion plans. Whether that's done by auction or private arrangement is yet to be seen and will largely be determined by cattle prices. Any that don't sell for milk production will be sold for beef.

Some people have asked about the fate of specific cows that I highlight on social media, such as Ms. Nosey and Trouble. Those two are both likely to fall in that second category based on their age, but both are currently pregnant, physically sound, and should be around for a good while longer. I wrote a blog a few years ago that deals with the issue of parting with favorite cows, and I invite you to read it if you're interested in the intersection of sentimentality and business. ("Saying Goodbye to Ol' Number 07")

Monday, January 28, 2019

Milk production is up

We're finally back over the 200-cow threshold in our milking herd (202 this afternoon), and so the increasing number of cows we are milking has obviously led to an increase in total milk produced. We still have 30ish more expected to freshen over the next 6 weeks, but I expect we'll send a few lower-producing cows off to the stockyard and give an extended dry period to several others to keep from going much over the 220-mark.

Part of our milk increase has also come from a switch to higher quality corn silage in the cows' feed ration. Last year's big silage crop exceeded our storage capacity, so we had to "ground pile" everything that we couldn't pack into one of our three silage pit bunkers. It was the first of last year's crop we fed because we knew it simply wouldn't age as well as the other. We fed the last of it a few days ago and started feeding better preserved, higher quality silage out of one of the bunkers. The cows immediately responded with increased production. Not substantial, but noticeable. And both the silage quality and milk production should continue to improve as we get a little deeper into it.

The weather has been a big limiting factor on production this winter, but has improved somewhat of late. We don't have a free-stall or pack barn, so our cows are out in the open most of the day. Keeping them out of the mud and finding halfway dry places for them to rest has been a real challenge with all the rain we've had, but fewer rainy days over the last couple of weeks has made pasture management and cattle flow a little easier. That translates into improved cow comfort, which in turn results in more milk.

Dad and I ran our monthly production "test" this morning, recording milk weights and collecting samples from each cow that came through the parlor. The samples and records were sent off this afternoon, and by the end of the week we should get a breakdown of each cow's milk production (quantity and quality). We will use that information to help us make the culling and early dry-off decisions I mentioned earlier, as well as to identify which cows we want to breed for replacement dairy heifers and which ones will be bred with Angus semen.