Missouri Dairy Business Update

Volume 13, Number 11
November 2013


Review of the 2013 Western Kansas Dairy Tour

By Dr. Barry Steevens, Professor Emeritus, MU Extension

The week of November 20-22 several dairy producers, Joe Horner and myself had the opportunity to join the Western Kansas dairy tour. We visited dairies near West Bend, Garden City and  Colby, Kansas. For the most part , this is dry land/desert country. To appreciate the agriculture mode at Garden City google “Garden City, Ks. Maps/ then  Birds eye view.” The area is full of circle pivots. Most of the crops are produced under irrigation, water pumped from the Oglala water source.  Wells are 300+ feet deep. It takes a lot of water to grow an acre of corn silage. Crop producers will put on 22+ acre inches of water to get the crop to harvest. One acre of corn silage will consume  600,000 gallons resulting in 30 tons corn silage or 200 bushels corn grain.

The country has a number of feedlots with 30,000-40,000 head of beef cattle. Some have pens of B + W Holsteins too.  Interspersed are large dairies. They will have 2,000-8,500 cows.

Interesting, they all are “family farms” Several of the offices had small children with them. All of the owners have an "entrepreneurial" spirit. They moved from California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Moving out to the middle of the desert was not an easy decision. It may take all day to drive to a town large enough to go shopping. Agriculture is the business.

The dairies are either dry lot or free stall setups. Dry lot works in the Southwest corner of Kansas but not north of I-70. As described by on the producers wives, dry lot works well for all but 5 days, which are pure hell!  Investment per cow for the dry lot is close to $1260 as compared to $2500-$3,000 for the freestall barn.   Parlor costs average $500 per cow.

The open lot farms have wind break fences and will place dry straw down for the cows to bed on when a storm comes. The lots have shades, feeding fences with headlocks and sloped so all water drains away from the pens. The lots are scrapped daily if weather permitting and manure is hauled to the irrigation corners where it is spread on the crop ground.  Kansas law requires the runoff to be contained in an approved lagoon. Free stall barns are 4 row drive through with headlocks using sand bedding and scraping or flushing manure.  One of the 3,200 cow dairies had four 800 cow barns.

At one of the dairies, “Forget-Me-Not” 8,500 cows were milked in two 72 stall rotary parlors. (The name comes from Deuteronomy, verse 8.) Cows milked three X produced about 70 lbs. per day. Nine trailer loads of milk left the dairy each day. Milk was marketed to Dean Foods and delivered to places like Tennessee, Atlanta, and South Carolina. Milk is direct loaded and cooled through a plate cooler to 36 degrees.

Most rations contain corn silage, alfalfa hay, corn grain and a variety of byproducts. Dry matter intake was about 52-56 lbs. per day.  We observed “simplicity” being practiced. This dairy had a dry cow, early fresh and milking cow diet. Ration costs varied from $7.00-9.00/cow at 70 lbs. milk. Corn silage was priced at $56 per ton or 35% d.m. placed in the stack or pit.  Feed was delivered in large twin screw vertical mixers pulled by a big John Deere tractors.  Most dairies outsourced heifer growing but retained ownership. For one dairy the cost of raising the heifers was $2.40- $2.60/head/day from four months to 23 months. They strive to calve in between 1,350-1,400 lbs.

Dairies have looked at innovative ways to reduce transportation costs. Milk is being condensed to about 35% solids at an ultra-filtration plant. Milk flows through a large filter like pipe at 70 psi. The insides looks like a big oil filter.  Milk water comes out the center and condensed milk the other part.   One dairy has a joint agreement with a large yogurt company. They have a drying plant which condenses the milk down to 38% solids and then condensed skim milk product is sent to the yogurt plant. “Freshness” is the reason given for condensing before delivering.

Much of the farm labor is of Hispanic origin. Productivity is very important. All of the large dairies stressed communication to all employees. The person caring for free stalls understands why their job is important in producing quality milk. Depending on the farm whether they raise crops, milk sold per employee ranged from 1.5 million to 3.5 million pounds milk sold per employee per year.  Parallel parlors strived to have 5 turns per hour. Several parlors did not have auto detachers. We were told they were too much maintenance, (remember simplicity).

Consultants are used for nutrition, animal health, labor management, and financial accounting.

The dairies stressed importance on good animal care, environmental responsibility and care for their employees. Will they be there tomorrow? That question likely is a function of water supply. Each year drawdown equals 50 years of recharge.
If you would like to see more about the dairies see the following web pages.
Forget-me-not-farms.com,    AgOasis.com, and  info@mccartyfamilyfarms.com 

Back to Missouri Dairy Business Update Index