Kentuckiana 2014: Technology and on-farm innovation highlights Kentuckiana tours

By Sherry Bunting


View more pictures from Kentuckiana 2014 here



CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. -- A mix of new technologies, on-farm innovation, top-notch management, family farm transitions, and the incorporation of bedded-pack barns as stepping stones to expansion highlighted the 2014 Kentuckiana Dairy Exchange tours in Taylor, Greene and Adair counties, Ky. July 29-30 and included an evening educational program featuring Dr. Nicola Blackie, from Writtle College in England. A combined 100 dairy producers from both states attended for a time of learning, networking and sharing ideas. (Look for a story on the evening program in the future).


IDP president Steve Obert -- whose dairy is located just 25 miles from the Kentucky border -- noted the group from Indiana found “a lot of ideas to take North” from this year’s Kentuckiana Dairy Exchange.


An 8-year tradition -- alternating between the two states -- the event is organized annually by the UK and Purdue extension, and is promoted by the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC) and the Indiana Dairy Producers (IDP).


“We picked dairies that have features of interest to other producers and with intergenerational transfer,” said UK’s Dr. Jeffrey Bewley about the 2014 Kentuckiana tours. Low somatic cell counts were a primary feature on the first day, showing “we can achieve high quality milk in the South,” said Bewley.


Compton Dairy and Hutchison Holsteins were recognized as the top two dairies in 2013 for milk quality. Tony and Ben are the father and son team at Compton Dairy, and they have taken their SCC down to an average of 70 to 80,000. The 190 cows produce an RHA of 23,000 pounds (2x).


“One of the biggest things we focus on is to keep the parlor dry at all times,” said Tony Compton. “We put no water on the cows, and our milkers wear gloves.” They rely on fully laundered microfiber towels and pre- and post-dip, and cull at 45%. The new freestall barn built six years ago brought the first SCC drop.


Dave Hutchison and his nephew Matt Sabo are the two-generation team at Hutchison Holsteins, where 125 cows are milked 3x and produce a 28,900 pound RHA with SCC averaging 160,000.


This farm has made significant advances in production largely the result of two big changes – going from 100% hay and pasture to a corn silage forage base for the ration and adding the third daily milking. The cows also went from being housed in freestalls only in the winter to being housed year-round today.


The corn silage for the dairy ration is custom-harvested by a large grain operator in the area. “He knows corn, and we concentrate on the cows,” Dave explained. The culling rate at Hutchison runs 38 to 39% with so many heifers coming in.


The breeding interval is 80 to 85 days, and Dave has found “it is better to breed later than earlier. We breed off of 21-day heats, and use the GEA Cow Scout system to help us catch heats and early problems,” which he finds more difficult with 3x milking. Their calving interval runs 12.9.


On the second day of tours, production and reproduction were part of the focus, and all three farms work together to buy commodities, grind corn and chop silage.


The first stop was Corbin Dairy with an RHA of 26,988 pounds with SCC averaging 180,000.


A former tobacco farmer, David took over his parents’ small dairy and expanded internally over the past decade to 300 cows, which are housed in two systems: sand-bedded freestalls and a bedded-pack barn that uses the fine particle sawdust.


Dr. Bewley’s team of graduate and undergraduate students recently completed a study at Corbin Dairy comparing the AfiMilk heat detection system to a synchronization program. Corbin confirmed that while there were differences in how they got there, the reproductive performance improved dramatically for both groups of animals so that the end result was about the same level of improvement in pregnancy rate under both systems.


The preg rate used to be 33. Today it’s 21. It used to take 2.4 services to conception, today that’s 1.9; and days open have gone from 171 to 132 while the calving interval dropped from 14.5 to 13.6. Culling runs 31%, primarily because they are adding 36% heifers as they are growing a little along the way. The flexibility of the bedded-pack barn, in addition to the freestall barn, helps handle their internal growth.


The Corbin visit showed that a facility doesn’t have to be fancy to get the job done. Corbin constantly tweaks and innovates. His on-farm innovations include adapting stainless steel cheese vats for waterers.


He also implemented group housing and automatic feeding for the calves in an existing structure by adding an old freezer truck-box at the end of the hay barn to house the automatic feeder. “It’s insulated so it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” he said.


In addition, he has found that taking 15 minutes each day to flush the drag line to clean the sand out instead of allowing it to settle has prolonged the life of his manure pump.


They grow all their own corn silage and have extra corn shelled. They also chop wheat then roll what is left as a “wet wrap” feed for heifers and dry cows.


“We really try to chop corn silage at the optimal time,” Corbin noted. “Going from 90 cows and grazing to 300 cows on a TMR, I’ve learned that if the silage isn’t right, we end up with a full year of lower production.”


The visit to Sidebottom Dairy featured a newly installed GEA milking parlor and successful multi-generation farm transition. Jim Sidebottom was instrumental as a pioneer for Kentucky’s dairy industry in establishing the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC), and he served as its former president. Jim and Ona and their son Stacy milk 250 cows with an RHA of 23,000 pounds.


“We bought this farm in 1981 as a crop farm,” Jim reflected. “Then we hit the drought of 1983. We started milking cows in 1985. It has offered us a good living.” They farm 600 acres to grow corn silage and hay, and last year they bagged high moisture shell corn as well, saving them grinding time during feedout.


They keep a low culling rate of 21 to 22%. Calving interval runs below 14 months, and they average 2.2 services per pregnancy, achieved with a presynch program.


They went from 3x milking to 2x milking and lost production, but gained it back by milking their early lactation cows 4x until they reach 80 days in milk. “The cows do well in this system -- giving an average of 10 to 12 pounds more milk -- and it solves the problem of finding milkers for that night shift.” The 4x cows are milked at the beginning and the end of each of the 2x milkings.


Sidebottom Dairy also utilizes a bedded-pack barn. Jim prefers the freestall barn for its cleanliness, but the bedded-pack allows cows to stay milking a few more years because of cow comfort. “Our SCC runs 200 to 210,000 for the whole herd and we see no difference in mastitis rates between the two barns,” he confirmed.


Cowherd Dairy was the last tour stop. Brothers Tony and James Archie milk 200 cows with an RHA of 24,800 pounds (3x) and SCC averaging 200 to 250,000. A new calf barn with automated feeders and group housing was one of the features, along with a remodeled parlor.


Tony and Jim are the 5th generation to farm here. They purchased the 60-cow herd in 2006 and built everything themselves to expand to 200 cows. This Kentucky dairy also uses a bedded-pack barn for 100-plus cows they’ve added to the herd size. They may add another structure for future expansion.


The 5th generation at Cowherd Dairy marked the transition from “being the labor to hiring the labor,” as Tony puts it. “The future decisions will depend on whether the 6th generation wants to do this. We’ll have to see.”


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