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Baas Dairy Ltd. cuts down hormone use and calving interval

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 01 September 2016
Baas Dairy Farm

The Baas family, parents Wiebe and Akke with sons Jan and Bert, emigrated from Holland in 1996. They settled northwest of Edmonton, near Barrhead, Alberta, purchasing a quarter-section of land (160 acres) with an existing dairy operation.

At the time, the dairy consisted of a small freestall barn, about 90 milking and about 10 dry cows, with a double-six milking parlour.

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In the 20 years since the family arrived in Canada, things have changed. Bert has married, and he and his wife, Heather, have two children: 7-year-old Wyatt and 5-year-old Hannah. Both Jan and Bert are involved, along with their parents, in the running of the operation.

“We do all of our own fieldwork; from spring seeding to spraying to harvesting, we try to do as much ourselves as possible. This is mostly done by my brother and my mom and dad,” Bert says, adding, “Me, on the other hand, I like the animals more so than the machinery department, so it all works out for us.”

Akke and Heather keep the books and provide meals for family and a few hired hands. “There’s nothing more fun than to socialize around the kitchen table with our crew,” Bert states.

Baas Dairy Family

The operation has changed, too. The family increased the size of the freestall barn in 1999 and added a pack barn in 2015. Most of the milking cows are housed in the freestall barn, with older and larger cows utilizing the pack barn.

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Chopped canola straw is used for bedding in both barns. Dry cows are housed on pasture at Bert’s parents’ place and returned to the dairy when they freshen. 

The land base has also expanded, and the family now works 1,300 acres, partly owned, partly rented, with a breakdown of 340 acres for corn, 340 acres for barley, 300 acres for wheat, 120 acres for peas and oats, and a final 200 acres for alfalfa. They feed all of their own crops and also purchase some hay from southern Alberta as needed. Jan hauls hay as required.

The herd now consists of 280 milking cows, 40 dry cows and nearly 300 youngstock. Milking is done twice a day in a double-11 parlour. (The double-six was renovated in 2004.) All of the cows are registered Holsteins, type-classified and on DHI supervised test at approximately 35-day intervals.

Cows are fed a TMR ration once a day which is pushed up often. It consists of a purchased supplement, barley, wheat, barley silage, corn silage, two types of hay (alfalfa silage and a local hay of alfalfa and grass mix), made using their own hammermill.

“We get tremendous production out of our cows … they eat a crazy amount of feed,” Bert says. He adds that a key to successful reproduction is a well-balanced ration.

When it comes to reproduction, the Baas family opted to move away from using hormones when it became aware of the negative public perception of hormone use. In July 2015, they began using a cow management program which uses an electronic eartag that attaches to the RFID tag the cows already wear.

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This tag monitors the cow’s activity, making pinpointing heat much easier. The first week of use develops a baseline for what is normal for that cow. After this, increased activity prompts an alert to the operator’s phone or computer.

“Now we have a constant eye on heifers and cows,” Bert states, adding that he still needs to eyeball the herd, but it is nowhere nearly as time-consuming as depending on that alone. Alerts come in at whatever time activity is noticed. Cows are bred 18 hours after increased activity is noted.

Bert says it took a bit of fine-tuning to identify this time frame. When they relied on hormones, all cows were bred in the mornings; now they are bred at the most opportune time for conception to occur. Bert states that 85 to 90 percent of the herd is now bred based on a natural heat.

Ten days and 24 days post-calving, cows are injected with prostaglandin; this hormone brings them into heat and assists in proper cleaning. Cows are not bred at this time.

At 75 days fresh, a vet check is performed with an ultrasound to be sure the cow is 100 percent clean, has no cysts and is cycling normally. Breeding occurs, on average, at 100 days post-calving.

Average time open for this herd is 130 to 140 days, with an average calving interval of 13.5 to 13.7 months. Previously, the calving interval was closer to 14 months when using the hormone protocols.

Heifers are moved to the pre-breeding pen at 13 months old and fitted with eartags. With a baseline established, they are moved to the breeding pen at 14 months old.

The family is well pleased with results so far: Not only is this method decreasing the calving interval, but it is time-effective. Bert claims, “In using this system, I no longer have to needle cows every night of the week for timed breeding, so it freed me up to do stuff with our kids, which to me is the most important aspect of the system.”

Bert has limited spare time, but what time is available is mostly spent with his family. The kids are involved in T-ball twice a week, and the family enjoys camping, canoeing, fishing and hockey in winter.

He volunteers with the local Holstein Club as needed and enjoys local sports. Heather is secretary of a local horse club, enjoys shopping, has a good network of friends and visits her family in the city regularly, besides keeping busy with the kids and their activities.

Weibe and Akke enjoy farm shows, spending time with their grandkids and a yearly visit with family in Holland. Jan enjoys farm shows, quadding and time spent on his road bike.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Baas Dairy Ltd. has grown to welcome the next generation and their farming aspirations.

PHOTO 2: The Baas family, including Wiebe, Akke, Bert, Heather and Jan, and Hannah and Wyatt (in front), works together on the dairy they started near Barrhead, Alberta, 20 years ago. Photos provided by Baas Dairy Ltd.

Alice Guthrie is a Freelance Writer in Hagersville, Ontario.

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