Dairy producers gather to network and learn
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 08/13/2012 1:22 PM
WEBSTER, Minn. — What started as a morale booster for dairy farmers in Scott and Le Sueur counties has turned into a popular educational event.
"We wanted to do something locally to bring neighbors together," said Laura Kieser, Extension educator in Scott and Carver counties.
It was also a way to talk about improvements made to the farm or just changes made in the operation, said Diane DeWitte, Extension educator in Blue Earth and Le Sueur counties.
In its fourth year, the Scott-Le Sueur Summer Dairy Series is growing.
Last week, more than 75 farmers toured the Randy and LouAnn Wagner dairy in Scott County.
The couple milks 150 cows in a tie-stall barn. It takes three people two hours and 10 minutes to milk. Two milk while one switches cows. They have 12 milker units with automatic takeoffs.
The workforce includes Robert Hurrle of New Prague, who's been their hired man for eight and a half years; daughter Megan Pieper, who works full time on the farm, and daughter Amanda, a student at St. Cloud State University. Son Brian has left the farm, but helps with field work. Randy's father, Ralph, also helps with fieldwork and repairs.
The dairy meeting began with lunch in the garage. Randy talked about the operation and answered questions from Jim Salfer, a regional Extension educator based in St. Cloud.
LouAnn, Megan and Amanda do most of the milking with help from Hurrle. LouAnn and the girls also care for the calves. The men feed the cows and do the field work.
They don't have scheduled days off, rather taking days off as needed. Megan will likely be off for a couple months after giving birth to a baby boy, Tyler, on July 26.
The couple considered putting up a free-stall barn and expanding, but they don't have space. It's still in the back of Randy's mind, because he would like to bring Amanda into the operation full time.
"It won't be long until the dairy world will be taken over by women," Salfer said, commenting on the number of women pursuing degrees in dairy-related careers and also the number of women active in dairy production.
Salfer reviewed the herd's DHIA records before the meeting and complimented them on their 21 percent pregnancy rate, which puts them among the top 10 percent of all herds in the state.
They had a lot of cows that were long in heat when one of their advisers, Franck Gaudin of ADM, suggested they try G6G. The synchronization program is working for them. It has improved their heat detection and conception rate.
"Get 'em bred or they end up dead," Salfer opined.
Randy led a farm tour, stopping first at the calf hutches. Calves are weaned at eight weeks. The hutches are bedded with sand in the summer and corn stalks in winter.
They've been using sand for 13 years and are happy with its performance. Others commented that sand didn't work for them.
The heifers are fed milk replacer. Bull calves get dumped milk. Calves are fed a gallon of milk a day and free-choice water filled twice a day in summer months. They don't get water in winter.
After the hutches, heifers are moved to another shed and the steers to another farm where they are finished.
They have a few crossbreds in the herd, LouAnn said. They first crossed with a Jersey bull when they couldn't get some Holsteins to settle. They cross the Holstein-Jersey cross to a Brown Swiss before back to Holstein.
The crossbred calves have more vigor than straight Holsteins, LouAnn said. They produce about 110 pounds a day, compared to 150 pounds per day for Holsteins. They do not use BST.
She selects the crosses and Randy selects the bulls and does the artificial insemination.
LouAnn grew up on the next dairy farm down the road and they milked Holsteins, Jerseys and some crosses. Randy is the third generation on the farm they purchased from his parents.
The couple houses cows in the dairy barn and in loose housing in two sheds. The sheds are compost bedded barns bedded with corn stalks. They are cleaned twice in winter and once in summer. A new bale is added daily.
Cows are dried off at 50 to 60 days from calving and moved to the dry cow lot where they calve. In the wintertime, they calve in a lean-to next to the barn.
Cows are milked in a typical two-story barn that is tunnel ventilated. Randy would one day like to convert the space into a parlor with holding area.
The Scott-Le Sueur Summer Dairy Series has become more formal and attendance continues to grow, Kieser said.
They start the meetings with a lunch, sponsored at the Wagners by the family, ADM and Hastings Co-op Creamery. The Dairy Profitability Enhancement Program was also involved as was the Scott-Le Sueur ADA. The lunch provides time for neighbors to connect and visit.
Each year, they feature three farms, DeWitte said. This year, their dairy tours were included in the 2012 Extension Successful Dairy Systems Field Days, attracting people from counties outside the area.