ADAMS, Minn. – Dairy farmers across Minnesota dealt with a roller coaster of temperatures in January 2013.
As one example, temps reached a high of 43 degrees on Jan. 11, and dropped to 3 degrees by Jan. 13 in Mower County in southeast Minnesota.
Calves are prone to respiratory issues when temperatures keep changing. The Blue Edge Dairy crew did a good job of keeping a close eye on the calves, and providing fresh and deep straw bedding, said Rick Smith, giving his report on Jan. 16.
After spending their first weeks in single-calf hutches, heifers are moved into small groups. Generally, the heifers will stay with the same group until they enter the milking herd.
To minimize respiratory problems in the calf barn, the dairy invested in a forced air ventilation system one year ago. Air is forced into the barn through a plastic tube that is 3 feet around and 60 feet long.
The ventilation system was designed by Dr. Kenneth V. Nordlund, DVM, and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.
“The air exchange brings fresher air into the barn,” Rick said. “The holes in the tubes had to be at a special angle to reach the corners of the calf rooms.”
The ventilation system was working full blast in mid-January, and the dairy also added medication to the waterers to fight pneumonia.
The Smiths were trying out a new management tool to monitor when the heifers went into heat. By putting up an antenna outside of the free stall barn, Rick was able to call up charts displaying activity from heifers that were located 960 feet away at his brother’s farm site.
For the past four years, Rick has used an activity meter that is placed around the cow’s neck with a collar to follow along with their activity. He is able to call up the information about the cattle via computer or smart phone.
If there is low activity, it may mean a cow is sick. High activity usually means a cow is in heat.
“It takes awhile to learn how to read the graphs,” Rick said, explaining that every cow responds a little bit differently. While some cows will show a very large increase in activity while in heat, others will show just a small increase.
He’s going to start using the activity meter with the heifers as well.
“This could save me time that would have been spent watching heifers. I can just monitor them by activity levels,” he said.
With the 2013 Minnesota Legislature in session, Rick was among those dairy farmers who wanted to spend some time calling for action on dairy-related issues.
He intended to travel to the Capitol on Jan. 24 to attend the Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership Banquet that will be held near the Capitol, and also on Jan. 30 for Dairy Day at the Capitol.
The 2013 Legislative priorities for the Minnesota Milk Producers Association (MMPA) include environmental regulatory reform, a competitive sales tax policy, a competitive overtime pay policy, a livestock investment grant program, and dairy research, teaching and consumer education authority. In addition, MMPA supports no loosening of current raw milk laws. The current law allows on-farm sales of raw milk.
As an MMPA director, Rick wanted to encourage dairy farmers to attend the Dairy Management workshops scheduled for Feb. 5, 2013 in St. Joseph and Feb. 6 in Rochester. Details are available at http://www.mnmilk.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=19 if farmers want to learn more.
During mid-January, Rick and the younger Smith children were taking care of things at their home. Rick’s wife, Tracy, was in Indonesia, having earned a trip through her work with PAX – Program of Academic Exchange. The program focuses on international education and cultural exchange.
Rick had the opportunity to talk with her.
“She loves it, except for the high humidity and the geckos,” he said.