Dairy’s bottom line rests on details


SMITHVILLE, Ohio – In Don Bennink’s dairy operation, North Florida Holsteins, if a cow can’t be in and out of the milking stall in 12 minutes flat, she is non-functional.

Bennick’s farm milks 3,000 cows that have to be through the parlor three times in each 24-hour day. One more minute, he said, and 550 cows don’t get milked. That amounts to $3 million in milk sales in a year, “for that stinking minute.”

Bennink was in Ohio this week to talk about his farm in a workshop presentation for the Ohio Holstein Association and the Progressive Dairy Producers of Ohio.

He spoke to producers twice, on Dec. 3 in Smithville and on Dec. 4 in New Bremen.

New format. The Holstein association has traditionally held a barn event in the fall, but the board decided this year that biosecurity issues probably meant a new kind of programming.

Bennink’s workshop was substituted to give Ohio dairy producers a look into the operation of a large-scale dairy organized around efficiency and meeting production goals.

Jim Spreng, regional director for the National Holstein Association, told producers that they should be able to take something they heard from Bennick and start making money with it that day.

Not farm kid. Bennick, a native of the northwest New York, along the shores of Lake Erie, was never a farm kid. But he built himself a herd from 4-H and FFA projects, and then started dairying when he graduated from Cornell in a 35-cow tie stall barn.

He went to Florida in 1980, with the agribusiness he serves as managing director. The farm started with a double 10 parlor, added a double 12 parlor in 1985, and built a double 40 parallel parlor in 1990.

The farm has 3,700 cows and 2,700 replacement heifers.

Managing genetics. The kind of management necessary for the efficiency the dairy has to get depends first and foremost on managing cow genetics, Bennick said.

He said each dairy producer should lay out the factors that are most important to achieving his bottom line, and then breed the kind of cow that fits that structure.

Their system. In his dairy, in order to get each cow through in 12 minutes, the cows have to walk in briskly, which means they have vigor, he said. They can’t have one of those bags that swings up on each side like a basketball with each step.

The legs have to be placed wide and straight, so the udder is handy and all four milking units can be placed with one action.

If the milker is going to put the units on in 6 or 7 seconds, Bennick said, the udder has to have some height and the teat placement has to be good.

No matter how much a cow milks, he said, if a cow doesn’t have these elements, she doesn’t fit into the system and doesn’t contribute her part toward the bottom line.

Know the bulls. These factors were Bennink’s way of emphasizing that a dairy producer should know the genetics of the bulls he is using, and should pick each bull individually to fit the needs of the cow he is breeding.

“It just costs too much to raise a heifer that doesn’t fit the system,” he said.

Inbreeding. The problem of inbreeding is also being carefully controlled in the farm’s breeding program. Anything above 6 percent inbreeding, he said, can cause cause disease, fertility, and production problems.

“If you don’t know the identity of your daughters,” he said, “you are just rolling the die.”

The farm has been quite open to experimentation, Bennick said. They are able to pull out of the herd two sets of identically matched cows that make scientific testing possible.

In the corner. “When someone comes on the farm with a new product that we ‘have’ to try,” Bennick said, “we’re always open to trying it, but over in the corner in one barn to see if it works.”

Most of the products don’t make that much difference, he said, “but we have found a few along the way that have made a real difference in our productivity.”

Cull rates. The cull rate on the farm has been established at 32 percent. “I would love to be in a position that every time a heifer calf is born, we would begin looking for a cow to cull,” Bennick said.

“It doesn’t work out that way, but we are always trying to keep the pressure on so that we are constantly culling off the bottom.”

(Jackie Cummins can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)


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