Saturday, March 23, 2019

Springtime brings more milk and more work

Springtime is upon us and life on the farm is about to get much busier than it already is. It's been a few weeks since I've given y'all an update, so I figured I'd try to catch you up to speed before I start tackling some of the projects on this Saturday's "to do" list.

Fewer cows, more milk
Good ol' Ms. Nosey
Our milking herd topped out at 213 a couple of weeks ago, but we've since culled fifteen and are now sitting at 198. And while we have three more in the maternity pen that should calve within the next two weeks, we also have a half-dozen that are nearly ready to be "dried off." So, if we do cross the 200 cow threshold again it won't be for long.

Removing those lower producing cows automatically raised our herd's average daily production on a per cow basis by a couple of pounds right off the bat. Per cow production has continued to climb over the last couple of weeks thanks in part to better weather, and now our total production is exceeding what it was before we sold those fifteen cows. We'll "weigh" milk on Monday or Tuesday morning, and by the end of next week we should have updated production profiles for all of our milkers. That information will help us make decisions about whether or not we have any more cows ready to cull and which pregnant cows might need to be dried off earlier than two months before their due date.

Getting ready for field work
The days are getting a little longer, warmer, and drier, and I'm itching to be in the field. We still have a little ways to go before we'll be ready to break any of our corn silage ground, but with good luck and favorable forecast we may be able to have some bulk fertilizer spread within the next 10-12 days. We've been able to spread enough manure on the fields adjacent to the dairy to get by without needing any commercial P & K, this year, but we'll still need a blend spread over about 2/3 of our "hill ground" acreage. I haven't even pulled soil samples in our bottom land yet, and I figure it will be at least mid-May before it is dry enough to plant. If all goes as planned, though, we'll be looking at planting around 170 acres of silage before all is said and done.

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")