TAYLOR, Wis. – Nathan Kling didn’t expect to have two dairy herds. But this past year when an opportunity came to buy an adjoining farm he took advantage of the deal. He now has an organic herd on his home farm with 250 pastured parlor-milked cows, and a conventional herd with 250 cows milked by robots.
So far the two herds are working well with complementary systems. He said lately the organic herd has been supporting the conventional, but he’s hopeful both will be profitable as the conventional price starts to improve.
Because the conventional herd is new with lots of young animals, Kling’s milk average is about 75 pounds with 4 percent fat and 3.2 percent protein. The organic-grazed herd is milking 52 pounds, with 4 percent fat and 3 percent protein – but the price difference for organic is about $7 per hundredweight better.
The conventional herd is the result of purchased cows and transitioning some animals from the organic herd. Kling does all his breeding with artificial insemination using SCR smart collars to detect heat and monitor health. The transponders on the collars will read up to a half-mile, which reaches all but the furthest grazing paddock. If he put an antenna on the silo they would detect for a full mile.
“I like it; it’s an accurate system,” he said.
Calving in the organic herd is split between spring and fall. That’s because Organic Valley, where the organic milk is sold, is paying a premium for fall milk. Plus it eliminates winter calving. The conventional herd is confined and has all-year calving.
The first herd at Kling Family Dairy started with Holsteins but for the past 10 years Kling has been cross-breeding them. He likes what he sees from the resulting cows, he said. His favorite mix is Holstein, Swedish Red and Montbéliarde because they milk as well as a purebred Holstein, they breed back well and have strong feet and legs.
“I like cows where I can calve her, breed her, dry her up and don’t know her number,” he said. “The problem cows we’ve had are Holsteins. They are too fine-boned and have longer legs.”
Holsteins will also change body condition more than the crossbreeds. Those are traits that are not well-suited to a grazing herd.
This past year Kling bought a Jersey herd to add to his mix; he’s also used some Normande and Fleckvieh breeding. He said there is a disadvantage to grazing mixed animals.
“The crossbreds test the fences,” he said. “If they are off, they know it.”
His harvested feed of choice is baleage. Currently he’s making 4-foot by 6-foot bales because he likes the ease of feeding and the speed of harvesting, he said. He believes there has been much improvement in baleage in the past 20 years.
“That’s farming,” he said. “We need to find a better way to do everything. It’s the nature of the business.”
He calculates the equipment for doing baleage costs about a fourth of silage.
“I want a nice square-shouldered bale for wrapping,” he said. “We’re in Wisconsin; we need six months of feed. I want good feed. It takes no more time to put up good feed (than) it does poor feed. The return on investment is much greater on good feed.”
His feed is used in a total-mixed ration where he adds high-moisture corn.
The conventional herd is fed in their freestall barn. One hired man can handle most of the chores on that farm.
Kling likes his four robots for milking. The robots do call him occasionally with problems, he said.
“(But) 90 percent of the phone calls (are that) the teat cup has flipped over,” he said.
Lack of technical savvy is not a deterrent. If the problem is more serious, most of the time he can turn the computer off and re-boot the system.
Although it would be easier to have one herd, he said, for now he’s content having two working systems. He has no specific plans to change what he is doing, and is open to whatever the future brings.