Friday, January 22, 2010

At Capacity

Our current milking herd is now up to 230 cows thanks to lots of calvings and not many dry-offs, and we've still got 20 more head expected to calve over the next four weeks. While this may sound great, it's going to prompt some tough management decisions on our part.

If you've been keeping up with us over the last few months you'll recall that we had a very poor silage harvest due to the weather in September and October. We've fed the milk cows nearly all of the sudex baleage we harvested and will be switching them over to sorghum silage within a couple of weeks. When we look at the estimated amount of silage we have stored and how much we think we'll have to feed per cow each day, it's unlikely that our supply will be enough to carry this many cows through until our spring forages have been harvested and ensiled.

Right now it appears our best option moving forward is to reduce our milking herd size. We have several pregnant cows that are still several months away from calving that aren't producing very high above the profitability line. We can go ahead and dry some of these off early (we typically dry off cows 2 months prior to calving) and let them eat bermudagrass hay and graze tall fescue. We can also go ahead and move some more cows into the beef market earlier than we would typically do.

The next couple of months are going to be pretty interesting, and the weather will play a huge factor in the decisions we make. If the weather is well suited for growing and grazing our forages over the next few months, we should be able to make it fine without having to cut our numbers by a whole lot. Otherwise, we'll probably be looking at heavy culling, selling a load of cows or heifers to another dairy, and buying additional forage.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's freaking cold, man!

It is not supposed to be this cold in northwest Alabama!

Tonight will be our second straight dip down into the mid 'teens, and after tomorrow's "warm-up" (high of 40, low of 25) the temperatures fill fall even more on Thursday. Once those temps drop below freezing Thursday afternoon they won't break the 32 degree mark until Sunday afternoon, and we're expected to see single-digit lows at least twice during that streak.

Now, I realize that this weather would be a welcomed relief to many of you up North who have much colder weather on a regular basis. You're used to it, and your farms were probably designed to handle prolonged cold weather. Our dairy farm, like most in the south, are designed to provide optimal cooling during the summer months. Unfortunately, what's good for the summer isn't too great for the winter.

So, we'll keep the ice busted off the tops of our water troughs and thaw out our milking equipment twice a day until a more typical winter returns next week. And if you're wondering about how our cows are doing in this weather, they're happy as long as it's dry and they have plenty of feed and water. You can learn more by watching our latest MooTube Minute below.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Challenges, New Opportunities

Close the book on 2009 and say hello to 2010!

If you ever took notice of the dairy industry this past year, I'm sure you know that it has been quite a rough one for farmers. Really rough! Read some of my blog entries from 2009 and you'll begin to understand what I mean. But, that year is gone and 2010 is sure to present us with both challenges and opportunities.

For dairy farmers, we're still left with the question of how to end...or at least manage...the price volatility cycles that seem to get more extreme and severe every few years. Many different plans for doing so were discussed over the past year and continue to be debated among dairy farmers. None of these plans are perfect or will satisfy every dairyman, but we're smart enough to realize that a "perfect plan" is unrealistic given the vast regional differences in our production and markets. As our milk price continues to improve as it has for the last couple of months, it will be critical that our dairy farmer leaders keep working towards crafting an acceptable plan so we can minimize the next inevitable downturn.

Focusing more on our farm, we also face some early challenges to begin the year. A wet fall meant a short harvest, which means we've had to buy more commercial feed and may also have to buy forages from other farmers by the time our own spring forages are ready to harvest. Buying feed and forages is expensive, and coming off a year like 2009 it really handicaps you from being able to attend to other projects. There will be other challenges as well, ranging from the weather to the costly impact potential legislation and regulations would have on our farm and every farm.

But with challenge comes opportunity, and that gives us hope for a better year even if our recovery process may seem slow and painful at times. From experimenting with rotational grazing to planting new varieties of silage crops, from more effectively telling our farm's story to to laying the groundwork for possibly one day processing and marketing our own milk and dairy products, the future is bright for Gilmer Dairy Farm. My family's been milking cows in Lamar County, Alabama, for over 55 years, and with hard work and a little luck that streak won't be coming to an end anytime soon!

Have a Happy New Year, everyone! I'll leave you with our final GDF MooTube Minute of 2009 which takes a quick look back at that year and also thanks you for allowing us to share our story with you.