Reprinted with permission from the June 1999 Holstein World.
Herd averages of 30,000+ and 70,000-lb. records? Here's how they are getting it done in North Carolina and Wisconsin.
What kind of operations maintain herd averages over 30,000 milk and produce cows that make 70,000 pounds of milk in a lactation? Where do they put their emphasis? What about their nutrition program? Breeding program? Cow comfort? We addressed these areas and more in the following roundtable with Terry Foster, Cleveland, NC and Bob Trampf, Berlin, WI. Each of these Holstein breeders have developed and manage extremely high-producing herds, and have each had cows produce 70,000-pound records during the past year.
The Foster operation made news when a Blackstar daughter they bred and developed, LA-Foster Blackstar Lucy 607 (NC), finished with 6-3 365d 3X 75,275 milk 2.2% 1738 fat 2.8% 2164 protein (North Carolina Cow Makes 75,275 Milk, February 1999 Holstein World, page 12). Lucy's dam is a Bell Jesse sold as a heifer, while the next dam is a VG-88 Milkmaster with four records over 30,000 milk and the third dam is an Excellent Lime-Hollow with 38,000 milk.
Owned by Terry and Sarah Foster, the 350-cow herd shows a current 3X RHA of 31,138 milk 3.08% 959 fat 3.01% 937 protein.
Bob Trampf and his son Rick made news when a cow they bred and developed, City-Edge Commotion Excel *TL(VG-87) completed a record of 4-1 365d 3X 70,612 milk 4.2% 2963 fat 3.1% 2163 protein (A New World Record, December 1998 Holstein World, page 12). Sired by Zee-Cal Commotion-ET *BL, Excel is from a VG-86 Rambo dam and a VG-88 Royalty granddam. The Royalty was the second 2-year-old in the City Edge herd to make over 40,000 milk; her Valiant sister was the first.
The 253 cows at City Edge Holsteins show an RHA of 32,929 milk 3.52% 1158 fat 3.1% 1018 protein.
In the following roundtable interview with World editor Dan Bernick, Terry Foster and Bob Trampf explain how and why they manage their herds as they do.
World: What basic practices are essential for developing and managing a high-producing herd?
Foster: Before cows calve they get free-choice minerals, soy hulls and silage. When cows calve we give them lutalyse to help make sure they clean and get going. We try to make sure they are fed and milked at the same time every day. We use commodities in making the ration and we try to make sure they all come from the same place each time. There is one TMR for the entire herd. Fresh cows get more Megalac, otherwise they are all fed the same ration.
If cows are not comfortable, they will not produce milk. Our freestalls are raked three times a day, every time the cows are taken out to the parlor. We mix sawdust and lime in the same cart used for our TME, then put it in the freestalls for bedding, once a week.
Trampf: Growing and harvesting quality forages - alfalfa and corn silage - is probably most important. We've always believed that if we manage an acre of alfalfa like a good cow, there is still money to be made in this business. Forage has to be grown and harvested right. We're in good alfalfa country. Cow comfort is also extremely imporant. As we started moving from tie-stalls to free-stals and began using sand for bedding, we kept the best cows in the tie-stalls where we thought we could manage them better. It didn't take long to figure out that the cows out in the sand and free-stalls were producing more milk than the cows in the barn, plus we had more injuries with the cows in the barn. We concluded that sand and free-stalls, managed right, are a real key to cow comfort. Manure is cleaned from our free-stalls and sand leveled on a daily basis.
World: Tell us about your nutrition program and ration for your herd.
Foster: The ration includes soybean meal, soy hulls, cor gluten, cookie meal, HJ Baker's ProLac, dried and wet brewer's grain, small grain (wheat, barley & rye), plus minerals. We have our share of DAs; if we increased the alfalfa amounts in the ration we could probably decrease the number of DAs.
Trampf: We work closely with a nutritionist who visits the herd twice a week. We include western dry hay in the ration. We feed SoyPlus for bypass protein, soybean meal, soy hulls and cottonseed. Cottonseed is one of the keys to high production; it's one of the most perfect feeds for dairy cows. For forages, we feed about 60% haylage and 40% corn silage - trying to shoot for 50% forages and 50% grain in our TMR. We also feed 17-18 pounds of 24% high-moisture shelled corn. The biggest challenge with our TMR is moisture levels in our haylage. We store our haylage in bags and we notice in our bulk tank when we get into haylage that is too dry.
World: Describe the daily routine of your herd?
Foster: We milk at 5 AM, 1PM and 9PM. The cows are fed during the first hour of each milking. They are in four different groups. One has fresh cows, another is the main herd - where AI work is done; another is the pregnant herd, and a herd that includes a bull.
Trampf: We milk three times a day: 5 AM, 1 PM and 9PM. We feed the cows three times per day, and push up feed to them 10-12 times a day. Nutrition is the biggest factor in keeping cows healthy and going on a daily basis. We use a lot of little things like yeast and Megalac. A cow that is eating, ruminating and milking well is generally healthy; she has a lot better resistance to mastitis and other health problems. We also have a real strong vaccination program, but I still think the key is nutrition.
World: Describe your breeding program.
Foster: The number one criteria is udder composite. If a cow calves and doesn't have a good udder, we just don't have much future with her. We define a good udder as one with good center support and teat placement, with a high-wide rear udder.
Trampf: It's a no-brainer breeding program. We sort the registered cows and breed them three times or more to proven bulls. Feet and legs, udders and durability in today's environment are so much more important than they were 15 years ago. We use a lot of our own bulls. We use bulls from the same cow family that produced Commotion Excel. The best bull we've ever used is a Pontiac son from this cow family. He was proven in AI, came through with a solid proof, but didn't make the active AI lineup. He was never released, but we bought 500 leftover units of his semen because we liked our original daugthers so much. Their udders, feet and legs and capacity are unbelievable. We're milking nearly 50 daughters and they average nearly 40,000 milk. One hole among members of this cow family is that they tend to be a little slow milking.
World: Describe your facilities.
Foster: We've been in our current facility since June 1995. It's two free-stall barns; one barn has three herds in it, the other has two herdsin it. We milk in a double-10 herringbone parlor.
Trampf: We have four greenhouses for our cows. One is for post-fresh, any treated cows, etc., where they remain for about 30 days. Our big greenhouse is where the highest-producing cows are housed and where we get the bulk of our milk. Then our other two greenhouses are used for cows that are later in lactation. At that stage, hopefully they are bred; if not, we have a bull with those groups. We also have transition areas for cows getting ready to freshen.
World: Do you use BST?
Foster: None is used in this herd. We think our cows are pushed hard enough - they don't need the extra stress that BST would bring.
Trampf: Yes, we use it. It is a management tool. We're still learning about it. It is kind of a tradeoff; for example, we can use it to keep a 2-year-old milking 100-plus pounds per day, but at what point do we take her off and let her back down so she can gain some body condition? We feed the same TMR ration to the entire herd. We let each cow adjust her dry matter intake on her production. A cow that is milking heavy is definitely going to eat more and a cow at the tail end of her lactation is definitely not going to eat as much. We've found that 2-year-olds that make 34,000 to 35,000 milk and are on BST sometimes don't even come close to doing that in the second lactation. They dry off too thin and don't calve in right. BST is something that has to be managed. We have some cows on BST, still milking over 100 lbs. per day, 600 days into their lactation. They're cows that we haven't been able to get bred back, but they are still profitable. There is a point in time where we pay for that. We've noticed that calving intervals have grown longer with BST and we just don't have as many replacements. We also see more twins with BST.
World: Do you use Oxytocin?
Foster: Only with some fresh cows.
Trampf: We use it heavily. Oxytocin is "poor-man's" BST. By getting udders milked out completely and getting good milk let-down, we can improve lactation curves. It's also a matter of speed of milking - getting high-producing cows through the parlor quicker. When we use oxytocin we dilute it to 10 parts sterile water and one part oxytocin. We give it to 80 percent of our cows. Oxytocin and breeding is a problem. Oxytocin naturally causes contraction of the uterus, in addition to milk let down. We believe that the environment is the uterus on some short-bred cows cannot withstand the contractions caused by oxytocin, causing them to lose early pregnancies.
World: Are there any misconceptions about managing and/or developign a high-producing herd?
Foster: After Blackstar Lucy made her big record, I think a lot of people came here expecting to see a bunch of big-uddered, broken-down cows. I don't think udders have to be hugh to get milk out of cows.
Trampf: The first thing people seem to think is that we must be cheating. Instead of trying to find out what it is we do to get high production, they seem to assume it is impossible. We know how much milk we ship per year, so we know it is real.
World: How was your high-record cow handled during the big lactation she made?
Foster: She was in the herd with the rest of the cows, peaking at 255 pounds per day. She had no special attention whatsoever. She has the will to eat like no other cow has got.
Trampf: She wasn't handled any differently than the rest of the herd. The only problem with her is that she is so long that she has to be put in the end stall of the parlor.
World: How else would you describe her?
Foster: She's a big, strong cow with a wide front end. She's a decent-uddered cow; it's a little deep, good quality, test placement is great, good center support, no trouble whatsoever. She walks on a good set of feet and legs.
Trampf: Really good feet and legs; a big cow with tremendous front end. The biggest hole in the cow is her udder; cows in the family tend to be a little meaty in the udder. They dry up well, but when they are milking well they tend to carry some edema.
World: Why do you think she milks so well?
Foster: She just eats constantly. I believe in cow families too. She is from a cow family that goes back several eyars - they have always been way above everything we have. She is ill-tempered. A lot of people have tried to put a halter on her for a picture, but she just doesn't like to be messed with.
Trampf: Tremendous capacity. Any time you look she is eating. She isn't as deep as she is long. We've found that cows who really milk well have got to be aggressive. She is one of these cows who will show you who is boss if you're going to put a halter on her, catch her, or do anything with her. She's not very docile. It's common for her to clear other cows away from the feedbunk so she can eat what she wants.
World: Any other comments?
Foster: We just try to make sure everything gets done right each day. It doesn't always happen, but we work at it.
Trampf: If you like a cow and she looks like she is going to milk, generally if you feed her right, she is going to milk.
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