Farms: ST Genetics, Pine Grove

We’re up and out of the hotel early in order to make it to the ST Genetics Ohio Heifer centre. It’s the largest permitted farm in the county, with a 9.800 animal capacity, and currently travelling at 6,500 animals on site. The sheds are wide and expansive and each hold animals at different life stages. The site was originally acquired to foster an export business particularly to Russia and Turkey, but then adapted to now run a milking barn and embryo recipients from both the high genetic merit animals on site, and the Wisconsin facility.

In order to feed the animals, they have over 2,000ac of corn (1/2 is currently planted) along with triticale as a grain ration. It takes 12 hours to feed all the sheds and there are 26 different customised rations, which 5 FT staff attend to, and whilst in the bus we see multiple feed trucks go past. The resulting manure from the sheds is used by a spinoff mulch company who process it for Lowes/Home Depot as composted cow manure.

The barns are single sided monoslopes with entirely bedded packs – working as close to a ‘natural living’ environment as possible. The base level of material is permanent, with the top 3-4 inches worked over between 1 and 3 times per week. 4 skid loaders and 1 extra large loader with 4 FT workers keep the barns in good condition and provide a good base for the cattle. The heifer barns are equipped with the Growsafe feed stalls, recording data points through over 200 feed nodes to get at least 70 days growth of valid data. The Ohio centre has 98% of accountability for their feed disappearance, allowing for greater control over feed rations and budgets.

ST have acquired Guernsey genetics recently and are looking to create their own unique breeding line similar to the Holsteins. There are 300 bulls onsite currently undergoing genomic reviews to determine who will continue into AI. The company aims to buy high quality females to breed males suitable for the industry and make profits off semen sales.

The maternity pens have cameras installed, and within 12 hours of birth the calf has had it’s first serving of colostrum – taken from the colostrum bank to ensure the quality is optimal, 3 DNA samples taken, it’s 2 ear tags put in and given a vitamin bolus along with a BVD sample. At 72 hours bloods are pulled to check the colostrum has successfully being taken and the calf’s immune system is responding. Calves are kept at the maternity pen until a first round genomic test is completed, and then moved to either a barn where automatic feeders are used, or a separate, high genetic merit barn where they are fed by personnel. The groups are allowed unlimited intake, and so are drinking an average of 7L of fresh milk per day, with some reaching 11L/day until they are weaned at 75 days. They are then moved as they reach the targeted weights to enter the heifer barns with the Ecofeed trials.

In the dairy they are milking 1,000 head of cattle, with 330 animals calved in May alone. They were previously selling these on the open market but have installed new 16 Lely A5 robotic milkers. With start up in January, the group are averaging 3.1 visits per day, with one cow even trying 28 times in 24 hours! The barn is incredibly pleasant, with tunnel ventilation, fans throughout to keep the pack dry, and bedding changes 2x per week. Each set of 4 robots sort to 1 pen, where someone is present 20 hours/day to deal with any treatment issues. With the robots and the technology in the milk room, the only thing they have to touch is the milk filters. The data that they are collecting as trial heifers become trial cows is they are now planning to research if high efficiency heifers become high efficiency cows.

The majority of cows and heifers are embryo recipients, with an average of 25 ETs per week, and 70-100 transfers per week. The attention to detail, data accuracy and process results in high pregnancy rates 50%+ in the milking cows, and 70% in the heifers. There are multiple Guernsey pregnancies due soon from the first acquisitions, so we look forward to seeing trials involving Guernseys and the golden girls competing with the Holsteins to prove their efficiency and superior milk quality.

From ST we head onwards to Pine Grove farm. Run by Reuben Miller and his family in the middle of Amish country in Walnut creek. The Millers milk 30 cows that are mostly Guernseys, having started in 1946 when Reuben’s father married a Guernsey girl. The Jerseys have been in the herd since 1993. The cows graze until milking, and enjoy a mix of corn silage and grain mix during their time in the tie-stall waiting to be milked.

When selecting sires, Clayton selects based on depth of pedigree. They have a wide variety of sires used, including Conqueror and his son Logo, Grumpy, Copper, Gary and Bruce.

The barn is immaculate and the cows are in great condition, with quality mammaries throughout the whole lineup. The Millers have been selecting in recent times to improve rear leg rear view, and this is evident as the cows stand square with high, wide rear udders.

Reuben & Esther join us for dinner at Der Dutchman, and enjoy authentic Amish fare next our wonderful inn. We’re also lucky enough to enjoy a buggy ride with Reuben’s horse & cart!