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Two dairy producers share some secrets to success

Progressive Dairyman Editor Lora Bender Published on 31 March 2015

Feb. 19 marked the date of the 2015 South Western Ontario Dairy Symposium, which took place in Woodstock, Ontario.

In its 32nd year, symposium founder and organizer Jack Rodenburg was proud to set a new record with more than 800 attendees and 122 exhibitors at this year’s event.

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Rodenburg stated, “Our volunteer producer planning committee is very pleased that so many people continue to see so much value in our non-profit educational event.”

Highlighting this year’s agenda was a producer panel, “Managing for Success on Both Sides of the Border,” featuring progressive dairy producers Ben Loewith from Summitholm Holsteins, Lynden, Ontario, and Jarrod Kollwelter, JC-Kow Farms from Whitewater, Wisconsin.

Asked to talk about their successful dairy operations, both presenters offered refreshing viewpoints on what success means to them and their operations, how they got there and their plans for the future.

ben loewithBen Loewith
Summitholm Holsteins,
Joe Loewith and Sons Ltd.
Lynden, Ontario

Summitholm Holsteins milks 400 cows three times a day with an average production of 12,800 kilograms. Also on the farm are 70 dry cows and 300 heifers with a pregnancy rate of 25 percent with an average calving interval of 13 months.

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The farm’s mission statement is very important to the operation and its success. “First and foremost, you need to be honest because we are in business to make money.

All decisions we make on the farm have to do with profitability,” Loewith said, “and when coming up with a mission statement, if the mission statement does not affect or change behaviour on a daily basis, then it has no purpose.”

The mission statement for Summitholm Holsteins reads:

1. We will profitably produce a wholesome and nutritious product the marketplace demands.

2. We will meet the needs of every cow, every day. Animal welfare will be of paramount importance.

3. We will encourage and foster the growth and development of all individuals involved.

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4. We will endeavor to protect and improve the environment, leaving it better for future generations.

5. We will be positive contributors to the community.

Using their values from the mission statement in daily operations, Loewith discussed their farm protocols in the following areas: calf rearing, fertility and ketosis.

  • Calf rearing. With a dedicated employee working with the calves, last year they had 223 females out of 460 calvings. With their strategic rotating colostrum collection and cooling, their calf mortality rate for the past two years has been 1.5 percent.

  • Fertility. The farm’s voluntary waiting period is 55 days and first prostaglandin injection at 65 days (if not bred) followed by CIDR synch beginning at 79 days if still not bred. The first breeding for heifers is at least 12 months old.

  • Ketosis. All fresh cows are monitored using a ketone milk strip and are tested five times in the first three weeks. Using a writing board to record data on each cow is an easy way to see if they are meeting their benchmarks.

Planning for the future, Summitholm Holsteins built a facility that can be easily adaptable to the fast-paced changing Canadian dairy industry.

Loewith explained, “We are banking on either a DFO quota policy change – making more quota available – or that one day the quota system will be taken away. Either way, one day the barn will be filled with milking cows.”

The farm’s new heifer barn holds calves 2 to 6 months old and the new 550-stall, five-row barn was built for older heifers and milking cows. “Our heifer facility was very overcrowded, so we were in a position where we had to do something.

One of the things we did during this process that was very valuable was hire a general contractor. He would have meetings every Friday with everyone involved promoting communication, which ended up saving a lot of time and money.

Contractors also take care of all of the safety papers,” he said, adding it is important to make sure each contractor has insurance.

Finishing his presentation, Loewith left his fellow dairy producers with his three-point strategy for success:

1. Pick your battles. Identify areas of improvement on your farm and set higher goals. “Try to focus on one thing at a time. Spend your energy on the one area in your operation causing a bottleneck where you could make the most financial gain from alleviating the problem. Ask yourself, ‘Where is my time best spent?’” Loewith explained.

2. Create a battle plan. Consult with outside professionals about your goals and how to attain them.

3. Empower your soldiers. Work with your employees to implement protocols to achieve those goals. “This is where the mission statement comes into play, but it is only as good as the competency of the people who are trying to follow it,” Loewith said.

jarrod kollwelterJarrod Kollwelter
JC-Kow Farms, LLC
Whitewater, Wisconsin

Currently milking 210 cows, three times a day, this third-generation farmer has a rolling herd average of approximately 40,000 pounds (more than 18,000 kilograms), which is one of the highest in the U.S. Over the years, the farm has gone through many improvements, from the addition of new barns and sheds to purchasing more land.

Kollwelter’s protocols for each area of the farm, giving insight into his daily operations, included crops, feed, replacements, managing the cow herd, and reproduction and genetics.

  • Crops. Using precision planting, the Kollwelters select highly digestible corn hybrids with high yield potential, planting 40,000 plants per acre. “I am a firm believer in tiling everything,” he stated, as tiling and irrigation play a major role in getting yield and quality.

    He said the farm strives for consistent moisture of 66 to 69 percent for corn silage, 60 to 65 percent for haylage and 30 to 34 percent for high-moisture corn. They rely on tissue sampling, mud sampling and nutrient readings to monitor their growing crops.

  • Feed. The ration is balanced at 56 percent forage with a 55-to-45 haylage-to-corn-silage ratio. He added, “I am a big believer in a six-month turnover for corn silage.”

  • Replacements. “What I’m looking for is strong, pretty much butterball, calves who are fat and healthy,” Kollwelter said. Calves are fed three times a day. They are moved through 10 lots by size, eventually being weaned onto a high-energy diet of TMR and calf mix starting at 45 days old.

  • Managing the cow herd. Cow comfort is the number one priority for Kollwelter, and there is never overcrowding. Cows are grouped by cow size based upon stall size, as well as somatic cell counts, speed of milking and walking.

    Alleys are lined with rubber and there are fans and sprinklers over the feed manger controlled by a thermostat. The parlour is tunnel-ventilated and stalls are leveled and cleaned three times a day.

  • Reproduction and genetics. “This is kind of my hobby; my game I like to do,” he said. Using natural heat detection and cherry-picking cows with Ovsynch, he is trying to improve genetics at a fast pace for increased efficiencies.

    Kollwelter is a firm believer in genomic testing, and he tests heifer calves before flushing at 7 months old. “Genomics are for real,” he added. “I’ve had about 700 animals tested, and they say 72 percent reliability, but I’m guessing closer to 90 percent.”

    Sending three bulls to an A.I. stud last year and two already this year, his strategy of breeding for the functional type is paying off. “High milk, high fat and protein bulls is what I’m breeding. I’m not into breeding for pretty cows that will go to the Royal or Madison; I’m breeding cows that will last,” he stated.

Kollwelter said, “I truly believe by 2020, when we get our barn full, we should be able to push 50,000-pound (22,650-kilogram) cows.”

After the individual presentations, both producers were willing to take questions from the crowd.

What drives you?

LOEWITH: If you are not striving to improve, then you are on a downward spiral. I think it is absolutely paramount that we continue to strive for efficiencies, especially with increasing international markets.

KOLLWELTER: The challenge to get more production out of my herd. Why can’t every cow in the herd produce the same amount of milk as the other?

What are your components?

LOEWITH: 4 percent fat and 3.3 percent protein

KOLLWELTER: 3.5 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein

What is your cost of production?

LOEWITH: With all costs included, I can make one litre of milk for $0.50. Then if you are just looking at variable costs, the next litre of milk is $0.35.

KOLLWELTER: I don’t really have any debt, so I can make milk for around US$9.00 per hundredweight (CA$0.25 per litre).

How do you make culling decisions?

LOEWITH: Culling decisions are based on our cows that get the designation of “do not breed,” which indicates they are 250 days in milk and under 25 kilograms per day.

Once the cow falls below the benchmark and reaches less than 20 kilograms per day, she will be culled. We do not cull if they are pregnant and will sell springing heifers before culling.

KOLLWELTER: If a cow drops below 100 pounds (45 kilograms), I start looking at her. If she is not pregnant and is only going to give 35,000 pounds (15,875 kilograms) and have a high SCC, then I start looking at her.

What do you do in terms of vaccinations?

LOEWITH: First, we give a pneumonia vaccine to the calves about a week before we move them from the hutches to the barn. We also give five shots of J-Vac; the idea is to get more of a hyperimmunity with increased frequency. Lastly, we give a modified-live vaccine 30 days post-calving.

KOLLWELTER: We give a modified-live vaccine when the calves are 3 months old, and then we give another a month after. Also, after they calve and every year after that. They get J-Vac at three months pre-fresh and every three months thereafter.

By the end of the presentations, it was clear to see that no matter what side of the border, individual success can be achieved through hard work and dedication.

Following set protocols and continuous measurement of what works versus what can be improved are the necessary steps when evaluating where your operation is and where you want it to be in the future.  PD

Photos provided by South Western Ontario Dairy Symposium.

Learn more about these dairy producers. Click here to watch the television show, Steven and Chris, on CBC as they visit Summitholm Holsteins as they entertain with a tour of the farm. Read the full details on JC-Kow Farms in the article Learn how a Wisconsin dairy herd tops 18,000 kg per cow.

Lora Bender
  • Lora Bender
  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairyman

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