Let’s Talk About the Ag on Your Plate
Our farm is a third-generation family farm originally located in Lake County. In the mid-1940s we relocated to Kirkland. Since then we’ve grown. We milk 350 cows twice a day. And care for 400 young calves and 70 dry (non-milking) cows. We farm 2,500 -acres.
The first stop on our tour today is the calves. Our calves live in individual huts for approximately 10-weeks until they’re moved into smaller groups. They’ll stay with those animals the entire time they’re in the herd. We like to compare the calves’ small groups to preschool. And like preschool, they share things. Mainly germs. We clean and rotate the huts to ensure that the animals stay healthy. They’ll move into larger groups, like middle school, before graduating into the milking herd.
Next, we’d like to welcome you to our milking barn. In 2001, we built and transitioned to a parallel-eight milking parlor. With the parlor, 16 cows are milked at the same time. Each animal gives approximately 80 pounds or 10 gallons of milk per day. Before milking, each animal’s udder is cleaned with a gentle solution and then wiped dry before the milking unit is attached. In under a minute from the time the milk leaves the cow it is cooled and stored in the bulk tank. Every other day the milk is shipped to the processor before arriving in your local grocer’s cooler. Each cow has a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that helps us to track her production and health.
After every milking, everything that came in contact with the cows or the milk is cleaned and sanitized. The parlor, bulk tank, and cooling tank are cleaned twice a day. The farm is inspected three times a year, twice by the state and once by the federal government.
From the parlor, we’ll walk to the freestall barn. Our animals are housed in groups of 90 depending on how long they’ve been giving milk. The barn is designed with over two feet of feed space per animal. Sprinklers and fans help keep the animals cool during the summer and heavy curtains help keep the animals warm in the winter. We choose to keep our animals indoors to protect them from the harsh Midwest weather.
Speaking of feed, we work with a feed consultant to develop a “recipe” for each group of animals depending on whether they’re heifers, pregnant, milking, or dry. We input the recipe into our Totally Mixed Ration (TMR) and add the prescribed ingredients. Most rations are made up of corn silage, haylage or alfalfa, wheatlage, ryelage, high moisture corn, corn gluten, soybean meal, distillers’ grain, and a mineral/vitamin supplement. To make corn silage, haylage, wheatlage, and ryelage, we chop the entire plant while it’s still green and soft and essentially make the cows a “salad.” Distillers’ grain is the by-product of making ethanol and corn gluten is the by-product of making high fructose corn syrup. To ensure that our animals are getting the proper nutrition, we test each ingredient individually and the entire feed sample.
Have a question? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share questions with our farmers and publish their answers as space allows in upcoming issues of The Co-Operator.