Dairy Channel: In dairying, there’s no place like home

Where is the best place to milk cows? Should I make changes here, or should I move to another location?

Sometimes these questions are asked by the dairyman trying to build a new barn on a farmstead that has not a half inch more space available for building.

At other times the question is broader, as in “Where in the U.S. is the best place to produce milk?”

I will admit to being somewhat biased, having been born and raised in Ohio. When I sort through the wide variety of factors that contribute to successful dairying, consider visits and conversations with dairymen and industry types from across the country, there really is no place like home.

A quick look at advantages and disadvantages of other locations across the country.

California. What is that trembling you feel through the soles of your steel-toed work boots?

The good news would be that someone left the gate to pen six open again and 250 Holsteins are stampeding your way. The bad news would be a quake registering 8.0 on the Richter scale.

On the other hand, if a crevasse opens up in just the right place, with minimal excavation you could have that new bunker silo you’ve been thinking about for the last year.

It’s hard to find such a positive spin for the mud slides (although we could consider this one way to deal with urban pressure,) wildfires, flash floods and water and power shortages.

Obviously, a lot of people really like to milk cows in California. Advantages are really nice weather and really nice weather, but can you picture your kids as Valley Girls and Boys? Scary.

Wisconsin. The original American Dairyland. Drive up Interstate 94 from Chicago and you’ll pass the Mars Cheese Palace.

My parents were born and raised in southern Wisconsin. I spent my childhood traveling back and forth, nose pressed to the car window waiting for a glimpse of cows in a passing pasture or barn.

Each afternoon at 5 p.m. we would hike into town to walk Grandma home from her job at the Union Grove Breeders Cooperative where she dispatched AI technicians to the hundreds of dairy farms that used to dot the Racine County countryside.

Winter in Wisconsin means more snow than falls on the Ashtabula county lakeshore. Normal road construction includes traffic signage for snowmobile lanes.

Sounds great to winter sports-types, but there is a joke in Wisconsin that when snow drifts over the hutches, the quick and easy way to monitor calf well-being is to dig out the bottle holder, stick the bottle in, then pull the bottle back out in five minutes.

If the bottle is empty, the calf is fine.

Question: What does a Wisconsin dairy farmer call June and July if it doesn’t snow?

Answer: A really good growing season.

Minnesota. Pretty much like Wisconsin except that the growing season is even shorter.

Florida. While you can enjoy a warm climate here and don’t have to worry about your children becoming valley kids, warm weather does have its drawbacks.

Retirees flock to Florida in the winter for a reason. The winter season is comfortable which means the other 9 months of the year aren’t.

Lots of people and less than optimal conditions for producing milk rewards Florida producers with the highest fluid milk price in the country.

Most articles about dairying in Florida do not mention the fact that an amazing array of insects, spiders, scorpions, snakes and other critters enjoy the weather in Florida along with the retirees. This phenomenon puts a whole new slant on keeping waterers clean.

A colleague from Florida recently related the following experience:

She was visiting with a dairy producer about some nutrition concerns.

As they walked through his pens of cows, she noticed a really sizable water trough that was slimy on top, generally nasty looking and appeared to have a buildup of sand at one end.

The obvious suggestion was to clean the tank and keep it clean as cows certainly wouldn’t use it in its present condition. During a later discussion with the dairyman, she asked if he had gotten the water tank cleaned up.

Never in Ohio. With a laugh, he related the following story:

A worker was sent to shovel out the tank. After a minute or so, he jumped out claiming that something had tried to grab his boot.

Somehow they found and pulled a drain plug on the tank and as the slime drained out they discovered that the “something” was a five-foot long alligator!

This is a clear sign that the tank was not cleaned out often enough!

Two thoughts come to mind. The dairyman could laugh about this because he wasn’t the poor schmuck in that tank trying to shovel it out.

Also, what was this reptile eating? Had calves been disappearing? Were cows coming in the parlor with one leg shorter than the rest?

“Don’t have to worry about 537′s hairy heel wart anymore, it seems to be gone… along with the rest of her right rear foot…”

I, personally, don’t deal well with big, hungry reptiles that can saunter into my yard and eat my kids or calves for snacks.

In the desert states. Arizona, New Mexico, southern Idaho…and basically an other place that is mostly sand.

If you have plenty of irrigation water, cropping is a snap. No checking weather maps and radios to decide when to mow hay. Less humidity will be a blessing for those who have asthma or achy joints.

For those of us who like trees with leaves, green grass and vegetation that doesn’t dry up and roll across the landscape, these location changes can take a major adjustment.

On the other hand, do you know why people from sandy areas always have really young-looking fresh skin?

Because every time the wind blows, there is a sand storm and if you have to be outside, the top layer or two of your skin is removed in about 60 seconds.

You also get really good at squinting so there is less sand to scrape out of your eyes when the wind dies down.

Affecting cows. How does this affect cows? After a sandstorm do we measure dry matter intake with or without the sand the blew into the feed? On the upside, stalls oriented the correct way to catch and break the wind could be self-bedding.

Okay, I may have slightly exaggerated a point, two at the most.

In all fairness, Ohio does have a drawback or two. For instance, you generally can’t buy land for $500 or less per acre even when it is under water most of the year. Sometimes we have mud, sometimes it is too dry and sometimes it gets really hot or really cold.

This means two things. On the average, Ohio is just right. And, if you plan it right, you can get your mud just where you want it before it freezes or dries out.

Dorothy said it best (even though she was talking about Kansas - and we won’t even go there), “there is no place like home.”

(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.)

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