NEW ULM, Minn. – A blizzard was moving toward Minnesota on Dec. 23, and those at Fritsche Dairy knew it.
A low pressure system in South Dakota began to mix with cold air and wind from central Canada and moisture brought up from the Gulf of Mexico.
As the wind picked up, Paul Fritsche worked steady to complete the morning feeding, chores and milking.
Stepping out of the barn to feed the heifers and dry cows, he could hear bellowing coming from the pasture.
It was an unusual heifer making noise out there. A half Limousin/half Guernsey beefy heifer was acting very maternal.
She was the offspring of a purebred Guernsey who didn’t settle until she was bull-bred. This resulting heifer was just too nice to send off for finishing, so Paul had her implanted with a purebred, high quality Fritsche Guernsey heifer embryo.
The dam of the embryo had been Grand Champion at the Minnesota State Fair in 2009 and 2011. Although the dam is no longer alive, some of her viable embryos remain frozen.
Paul knew the crossbred heifer wasn’t due yet, but he went out to check on her anyway.
There, lying on the wrong side of the fence was the beautiful newborn Purebred Guernsey heifer calf.
“The little baby had gotten through a barbed wire fence and Mama knew what was right,” Paul said. “I had to carry the calf. She had been with Mom long enough so she was licked off and had her first milk.”
The maternal instincts were strong in the young mother. She let the calf know she was supposed to lay still, so Paul had no help in the walk up to the farmyard.
“I am trying to beat the weather knowing it’s going to start sprinkling pretty soon,” he said. “Here is this old duffer trying to pick up this wet bag of noodles.”
With a crossbred dam, Paul wasn’t sure how she would react to her calf being carried. He stayed on the far side of the fence and kept an eye on the mother.
“I got her moved to a pen in the shed and they were fine while I did the rest of the chores,” he said.
The crossbred cow produced about 25 pounds of milk per day at first. Paul milked her and fed whole milk to the calf. After two weeks, it was time to dry off the new cow. The Guernsey/Limousin cross had done her job and will remain in the herd.
“She’s not going to milk enough to make it pay to take up a stall, and she’s not going to work out in a stall because of the way she’s built,” he said. “After we dry her up, we’ll do the same thing again – put another embryo in her again.”
Her calf is fine and on her way to becoming a show heifer.
The Dec. 23 blizzard left about 5.5 inches of snow and another 4 inches fell a few days later.
Temperatures warmed back up into the 30s, but the winter routine was in place at Fritsche Dairy. Without access to the snow-covered pasture, the dry cows and heifers had an open-sided bedded shed and an outdoor bed pack.
In the tie stall barn, milk production and quality stayed strong with butterfat testing just shy of 5 percent and protein about 3.6 percent.
Milk testing is an important tool that helps the Fritsches determine the health of each individual cow and the herd in general.
“When DHIA began offering somatic cell counts, we were on board right away,” he said. “It is one of just many things you can test your milk for.”
If the somatic cell count of a cow is higher than normal in the DHIA test, Paul investigates the issue. He takes individual milk samples and sends those to the veterinarian for culturing. He wants to know the mastitis strain and best medication to eliminate the infection.
The Fritsches also use the DHIA lab to test milk samples to determine pregnancy. By day 28 of pregnancy, progesterone levels are high enough for a positive test. There can be false positives or negatives, but with a careful eye on the cows, Paul can verify the results.
In addition to testing for butterfat and protein levels, the AMPI plant in New Ulm tests for MUN – Milk Urea Nitrogen.
“Basically what that gets down to is how much nitrogen is coming through in the milk,” Paul said. “Nitrogen is protein and if the MUN value gets too high, that tells me I’m wasting protein, purchased feed.”
All of the testing provides feedback to back up what the Fritsches are observing in the herd. Even after decades of dairy farming, they rely on tests to assure the cows are very healthy.
“No matter how big or small a herd is, it still comes down to the ‘Eye of the Keeper.’ That is Animal Husbandry 101,” Paul said. “You’ve got to know your animals.”