Farms: Gurn-Z Meadow, Hoard’s Dairyman.
The showers were closing in on the tour group again but that didn’t stop us on the most exciting day of the tour so far. We travelled across the Wisconsin countryside, where the season has been better, but still suffered a 30% alfalfa kill rate
Ed & Julie Bacon, along with Jennifer, and father Bill, milk 120 cows with 2 Lely A4 robots
Jen spent 15 years in the biotech industry before returning to the farm, and is now working her way through apprenticeships in cheese and butter making, with the intention to market their own artisanal produce from Golden Guernsey milk..
The herd is approximately 70% Holstein, with the other 30% Guernseys. There are no favorites here – all animals must earn their stall in the barn. The barn has a focus on cow comfort, with sand bedding used in addition to a packed straw pen for hospital/sick cows. When selecting sires, Julie looks for high DPR/health traits and production. The cows are expected to get back in calf within 150 days into lactation and produce on a level equivalent or better than the Holsteins on a solids basis.
The new facility was built in 2012, and the cows are milked on average 2.8x per day for an RHA if 23,766lbs M 4.5% 1,011F and 3.4% 767P. Julie commented that the Guernseys were faster to train up than the Holsteins into the robot milkers, and fed a mixture of corn silage, cottonseed in a TMR.
In the barns we see some solid cows thriving in the freestalls. There are Cordell, Judgement, Sputnik and Copper daughters as well as some Latimer and Top Notch daughters. With the focus on health traits and the need for the udders to be correct for the robots, the udders are all above the hock, with ideal teat placement. The majority of the cows we view are 1st or 2nd lactation and classified between 80-85 points. They are balanced young cows which makes it exciting to think of how they will develop over further lactations into cows with strength.
The lunch the Orchard family provides is a bountiful harvest of local produce – complete with homemade cheese curds and butters of all different kinds. There is also a selection of Wisconsin cheeses to enjoy. There is also ice cream from the local creamery that Gurn-Z Meadow supplies.
As thunderstorms loom we roll out of the farm onwards to Fort Akinson, WI.
We head to Hoard’s Dairyman – immediately apparent is the brand new freestall barn, with 4 brand new DeLaval robots milking the 200 Guernsey cows. Jason Yurs, the herd manager is tired as the robots only started up on Wednesday, and each of the cows’ udder pattern has had to be programmed into the computer. However, the majority of the cows have already learnt the behaviour of coming into the robots to be milked, but we stay on the outside of the freestall in order to keep further disturbance to a minimum.
Hoard’s Dairyman is the oldest continually tested and registered herd of purebred Guernseys in America, since WD Hoard set up the dairy in 1885. The farm was designed to showcase best practices in animal health, cropping and production and communicate this through the Hoards Dairyman magazine.
When Jason took over the herd around 2002, the herd was in a challenging state. With the challenge to grow the herd into a commercial enterprise, Jerseys were purchased as the Guernsey herd was running at a 70% bull rate and poor heifer retention, and the herd needed to grow. A free stall barn was added in 2012, with the latest shed only being completed in 2019. As the selection pressure has focused on DPR and health traits, the Guernseys have out competed their Jersey herd mates on an efficiency per kg/milk solids basis and are now the dominant breed on the farm.
As we walk through the new robotic milking barn, the cows we see are strong, wide and open-ribbed with well attached udders. They carry slightly more condition, but bone quality is evident, texture is soft and silky on the udders and the animals all move on functional feet and legs, with locomotion being a self-selecting trait in the free stall operation. We see a wide mix of sires being used, and multiple daughters standing out – Copper & Cordell frequently being in the mix. The cows have multiple lactations behind them, and the average calving interval is 12.8 months. The cows are eating a superfine TMR, and the wide muzzles are ensuring there’s plenty of dry matter going in to produce quality golden Guernsey milk. The animals are relatively settled given they have been in the facility for less than a week.
Hoard’s have started to make their own cheese, and are looking at processing their own milk – however they have a good relationship with their current creamery, and receive a premium for the Guernsey milk based on cheese yield, allowing them to test the market with the cheese, and continue to focus on the farm operation.
The heifers are kept offsite at a different facility that isn’t as close to town as the home farm – we see some higher pedigreed heifers that are currently in the hutches – well grown, vigorous young calves by Prince Charming are standouts.
We enjoy dinner courtesy of Hoard’s Dairyman, which is greatly appreciated.