Monday, April 2
12 p.m. Head to T&K Dairy. Cattle guards in roads crossing main roads. Bud says Arizona is an “open range” state. You hit a cow, you buy a cow. Good thing we didn’t hit the bull yesterday.
2:15 p.m. T&K Dairy is five years old; they milk 3,700 cows but facility was built for 3,200. RHA about 25,000 pounds. Richard Green, manager, is originally from the UK. He was manager at a Saudi-Arabian dairy for 10 years. Said motivation to work in Saudi was good pay and quick opportunities for moving into management positions.
Arizona Dairy Company and T&K Dairy both use Korral Kool systems to manage heat stress. Arizona Dairy used them in their shades, and had separate feed lines at the edges of their corrals. T&K is built using the “Saudi” concept of including the feed line under the shade.
On dairies with outside feedlines, feeding and handling routines have to be changed during very hot times because the cows won’t come out from under the shades. In the Saudi system, cows will keep eating and can still be handled in the headlocks.
Korral Kool systems are large fan units that atomize water before it hits the ground. Not likely to work well in Ohio as the water would condense on our stalls. Computers tie the fan units and curtains together to open/close curtains and operate the 5 hp fan units when needed. Up to 50 gallons of water per minute can be pushed through the units.
A pricey system ($5,000 per unit spaced every 20 feet or so) that very effectively lowers temperature (about 30 degrees on a 100-degree day). Heavy use in the summer pushes the T&K utility bill up to $60,000 per month and water use up to 1.2 million gallons of water per day.
Pushing water into all the systems requires a water tower that looks like two Slurry store units staked on top of each other.
The dairy is purchasing a lot of heifers. Not surprising with a cull rate over 40 percent. When asked about biosecurity, the response is that it is difficult at best.
The dairy’s owners also operate a Holstein feedlot right next door. If that isn’t challenge enough, another feedlot of 60,000 Holstein steers is right next to their feedlot (so close it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts.). It is difficult to comprehend that many animals in one location. No smell today.
3:30 p.m. A short drive and a quick stop at the Withrow dairy. This new dairy started calving all heifers last November; 700 in March. Forty employees have been having lots of fun! Currently milking 1,900 head 3x in a double-40 Bou-Matic with a 62-pound per day average; 1,100 yet to go. They have had to pull about 40 percent of the calves.
Milkers work eight-hour shifts, six days per week. Do they get combat pay?
Dairy is still under construction. Hospital area is still temporary. Dry cow housing not yet built, but since they just started breeding in February, they have a few months before it is needed. The owner is a calf raiser who always wanted to milk at his own dairy. (Dairy disease is everywhere!) They buy all feed and hire custom harvesters.
Members of the Maverick Co-op. No bST use is permitted by members. “Saudi” style barns here as well.
Tuesday, April 3
8 a.m. Last day to tour farms in Arizona. We always try to visit a farm without cows and today’s stop is the Bickman Rose Farm, where you will find 700 acres in roses at any one time. They partner and rotate fields with a neighboring vegetable farm.
Arizona grows 45 percent of the U.S. rose crop. Production is migrating from California due to lower labor costs and the fact that disease is virtually non-existent in this dry climate.
Roses are a two-year crop from planting a root stock cutting through grafting a bud from the desired variety to harvesting and wholesaling a bare-root plant. Average sale price: $1.60 per plant. Last year’s sales: 3.7 million bushes. All production was contracted before the first bud was grafted.
Manager Frank Rodehouse gave us a great demonstration of the growing process. I counted at least seven tasks in the two-year production process that are individually done by hand to each and everyone of those 3.7 million bushes per year.
10 a.m. Triple G Dairy. This is a newer dairy facility for a herd that was moved as a result of progress. The original dairy was built where a big highway cloverleaf now stands. Consequently, the owner had a handy wad of millions used to relocate the operation.
This 3,200-cow dairy milks in a double rotary parlor. Two 48-stall Westfalia parlors milk up to 550 cows/hour. They are about 8 feet apart with one running clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. Five operators plus a cow pusher operate the whole system.
Cows seem to like rotary systems. They were literally pushing each other to get onto the platform. If one hesitated, the milker whistled and up they came. Cow throughput does slow down at times when a slow milker has to take a second trip around the carousel.
So, the real question: What was motivating the cows to back off the platform? No water hose here. Instead, a 4-foot, 8-inch diameter PVC pipe with capped ends and likely some weight inside was suspended from the ceiling by a rope. It was positioned to biff the exiting cow in the head if they didn’t back out fast enough. (The University of Arizona did a survey of rotary parlors and found one cow, who really enjoyed the ride, had learned how to evade the PVC pipe and rode around five times before she was kicked off.)
There is no doubt that dairy is well established in Arizona. But, like dairy production anywhere, it faces its own unique challenges. Urban pressure will continue to grow and with it competition for scarce water supplies.
Concentrated livestock operations close together face unique health challenges. Keeping cows cool enough to milk and get bred will continue to be a real challenge at many dairies. On the other hand, they have alfalfa to die for and the need for minimal housing investments.
By the way, if you are feeling a little crowded, there were a number of opportunities to purchase property along the way. Some of the more interesting found in the middle of the desert with a carrying capacity of about one cow per 40 acres: “Arizona Ranches from $129/month;” “400 Acre Ranches from Only $395 per acre;” and the best one, “7,000 Acres, 5 miles of Frontage.” I think these offers would best be considered “BYOW,” or bring your own water.
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of “Farm and Dairy,” P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)