CLOVIS, N.M. — “Who will train our next generation?” That has been the concern of New Mexico State University extension dairy specialist Dr. Robert Hagevoort and his colleagues where college dairies have closed their doors over the last 10 to 15 years.
“This program resonates, and the numbers of students taking advantage of it are increasing,” he says about the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC). The program has evolved over the past 14 years. USDETC is a 6-week course from mid-May through June. It provides “total immersion” and draws on expertise of producers, industry representatives and professors from several universities and across multiple disciplines from repro, genetics, animal health and milk quality to facility design, nutrition, business management and human resources.
Classes are made up of first and second year attendees who will go on to become herd managers, veterinarians, educators, nutritionists, who want applied understanding of large herd management. Applications are typically due in mid-February.
Udder Comfort has been among the many partner-level sponsors for the past six years. Customer Zachary Cordel of Heritage Dairy says he participated in the 2013 USDETC and benefited in the way it is set up “to learn in the classroom, get out on dairies to see what you have studied and talk to owners and managers about what you have just studied.” He went through the program at the same time as colleagues managing neighboring dairies.
“I’m always running into former students who have gone on to manage herds, become nutritionists, AI specialists, or company reps,” Hagevoort relates. “This program is making a difference. It facilitates a future by opening eyes to dairy systems and helping students see themselves in potential roles. Some will come here with no dairy background and go on to manage dairies. They had it in them, and their connection to the program helped bring it out. Some students will learn this is not for them, and that’s okay too.
“For our pre-vet students, we show them what our industry is about. We work with producers and industry sponsors to get the students out on dairies to listen to producers and see, firsthand, how they run their operations and manage their herds,” he explains.
Operating out of Clovis Community College, the students spend half their day at nearby dairies with a range of management styles, focusing on different aspects of dairy management each week. They return to the classroom to discuss, debate and be tested with subject matter experts.
First-year students typically visit Clover Knolls Dairy, owned by Tio and Chyanne Ford in nearby Texico, New Mexico during ‘milk quality week’. They do some training in the hospital parlor and other learning stations, then Ford walks them through his operation and management protocols.
Ford focuses on milk quality and achieves an average somatic cell count below 100,000 in his herd of nearly 3000 cows. They produce 88 pounds/cow/day, which is up from prior years of around 85 to 86 pounds.
“This is what we used to do with the dairies at universities, but now we work with producers to provide the real-life examples,” Hagevoort explains. They learn milking protocols, cow flows, calf care and housing, and to feed, breed, and treat cows as well as the business decisions dairy owner/ managers are faced with.
On this visit, the students have lunch provided by Udder Comfort, through area representative Al Lanting. Clover Knolls is a longtime customer.
They also learn whether or not this is something they want to do, or find direction into other dairy-related careers.
During the session at Clover Knolls, for example, Ford touched on some of the challenges the dairy has faced since its re-start in 2007 when Tio and Chyanne took over. While Ford grew up on one of the region’s century dairy farms, Chyanne’s parents Doug and Irene Handy left the cold winters of Meadville, Pennsylvania in the 1950s to start nearby Do-Rene Dairy.
Ford talked about the freak Winter Storm Goliath that hit both Clover Knolls and Do-Rene in December of 2015. The two dairies have closed-herds, so they worked together on cow flow, not wanting to buy-in replacements after that storm.
“We were content to milk 200 to 250 fewer cows after the storm, and found we were shipping more milk while using less feed, less water, less labor,” Ford related. With the use of sexed semen and a successful heifer raising program, Ford had enough heifers calving to send many of them to Do-Rene to replenish their numbers after substantial storm losses.
At Clover Knolls, cattle are sorted and moved daily with closeups moving to the calving area and post-fresh cows to the fresh pen at the lower end of the dairy by the hospital parlor. They are milked there for their first six to eight milkings before heading to the main pens and parlor.
Ford allows calves to nurse one time and then separates the calves and marks the cow with her calving date for easy identification of where she should be in the dairy’s cow flow and health-watch.
In the hospital parlor, an Udder Comfort Spray Gun has been set up to apply the spray to the center cleft from front to rear after each of those first six to eight milkings.
“Udder Comfort was the only thing that worked to soften udders after Winter Storm Goliath. We’ve used the product over the past 10 years, and seeing how it softened them in the aftermath of the blizzard, we installed the Udder Comfort Spray Gun to get more aggressive in spraying all fresh udders, across the board,” says Ford.
“This primes the fresh animals, and definitely helps get their udders headed in the right direction,” he adds. “Our key is to get them out of the starting gate without issues. We’ve seen a real benefit, and the spray gun system is simple, fast, and helps us conserve how much of the product we need to use to meet the objective.”
Ford likes to keep things simple, and this applies to the parlor itself — a plain double-20 that turns 10 times per hour. Simplicity also applies to the protocols on the dairy.
“Managing a dairy, we find that 90% of our problems are when employees don’t have protocols that are simple to implement and follow-through consistently,” he explained. He keeps a simple udder prepping protocol, and adjusts the use of pre- and post-dip to account for changes in the weather.
“We use a pre-dip cup when it’s rainy, but we spray the teat-dip under normal dry conditions,” said Ford on what was a rainy day.
Ford grows corn silage and sorghum silage and explained how every drop of water on the dairy is recycled six times before reaching the fields as irrigation.
Ford is big on fresh feed. He does five to seven feed drops a day and cleans up feed twice a week — more often when it rains. He also leaves ‘lot hay’ at the ends of each pen for cows to regulate themselves and their own digestive health.
When it comes to rations, he gets a bit more detailed, feeding four: a special ration for the fresh cows, a high cow ration, a general ration and a late lactation / low cow ration.
Adequate bunk space is also important, and he gives more space between lockups for closeup cows, with the main pens at two feet between lockups and the closeup pen two-and-a-half.
Pens are also spacious in an open drylot setup. Space becomes even more important in wet years. “You don’t want cattle stressed by space issues,” said Ford, who provides 600 square feet of pen space per cow on average. “We don’t stock to the max here.”
The stocking rate is kept between 70 and 85%. Hagevoort explains that, “This leaves holes open so cows can be next to their ‘friends’ and gives heifers some space to find a spot to eat where they don’t have to stand beside the big, bossy mamas. The key is to make sure they have space to put their heads down and eat, without getting knocked around by other cattle.”
Ford commingles his cows and heifers in closeup and fresh pens, but separates the heifers once they get to the main group pens to help with aggressiveness issues. Ford also likes to use a buddy system in the sorting process. “Cows like to have buddies,” he said.
Students who enroll in the USDETC typically hail from the western states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, North and South Dakota and California. In addition a few students show up every year from other states, including Pennsylvania, New York, New England, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as from Canada and other continents, including Europe, South America, and countries like Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
Subject matter experts come from universities across the U.S., including, for example, from Penn State Lisa Holden on human resources and Chad Dechow on reproduction, from the University of Illinois, Mike Hutjens on feed efficiency and from Washington State University, Dr. Larry Fox.
For more information about the USDETC program, click here
By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Texas Dairy and Ag Review, Farmshine (2016-18)