Could nutrition and comfort improve your herd’s RHA?

By Kelsey Holter

The following is a review of the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge. Kelsey originally wrote this for Progressive Dairyman and it will be in the March 2 issue.

Despite the cold weather and snow on the ground, 66 students came out to participate in this year’s Mideast Regional Dairy Challenge. Held in Wooster, Ohio, the dairy challenge focused on the students’ ability to evaluate a dairy farm. Each student is placed on a team of four to five other students from different colleges. The teams are then sent out to come up with ideas and recommendations for the farm and then present them to a panel of judges to be scored.

For this competition, Farm 2 is a complete family operation. Out of their 1,200 animals, they milk 693 cows 3x daily in a double-18 herringbone parlor. Their freestalls are bedded with sand and groomed once daily.

“This farm’s overall strength was cow comfort,” said Ray Nebel, veteran Dairy Challenge judge and president of technical services for Select Sires. “We saw 75-80 percent of the cows, even though it was cold, lying down and chewing their cud.”

Nebel went on to say that both reproduction and milk quality were not far behind comfort in the strength category for this farm. Good locomotion, reproduction practices and protocol during milking are what really stood out for judges and students alike.

Team 13, who were all first-time competitors, was comprised of Abby Rudenick (University of Minnesota Twin Cities), Thaddeus Lidy (University of Illinois), Eric Schulenburg (University of Wisconsin Platteville) and Michael Dunn (South Dakota State University). They all agreed on cow comfort as one of the farm’s high points. But their idea of the biggest strength for the farm was its reproduction practices.

“The first-service conception rate on both heifers and cows was excellent,” Lidy said.

“And with the average conception rate ranging from 28 to 30 percent, you can’t say anything bad about it,” added Rudenick.

Calf care was commended because everything was “clean and sanitized.”

“And they had cards on every calf pen, telling exactly what each calf was being fed and how much,” said Dunn.

For a farm with so many attributes, finding recommendations to present to the farming family was more difficult than usual. But the team came up with some logical ideas that will help the cows get in top-shape.

“Tightening up the nutrition for the cows on this dairy would enhance the already high RHA,” said Lidy.

And this farm’s RHA? A mighty 28,000 pounds. But the team said that a more sturdy diet for these girls would enhance more than just the herd’s RHA. Nutrition goes all around and affects the overall health of the cow.

The team also proposed that the farm should produce a higher energy diet for transition cows, which is directly in the ballpark of what Nebel had in mind.

“An opportunity for this farm would be for them to improve the transition cows,” said Nebel. “The area of cows two weeks before and after calving needs to grow.”

In addition to nutrition, the team also came up with perhaps one of the most overlooked concepts that a farm should have incorporated in their everyday happenings – updated medical records.

“Having one person enter data after a cow goes lame or becomes ill is something that should be done to avoid the illness happening again,” said Rudenick.

With all of the work that the team had to do, they found out some interesting things about themselves in the process. Teamwork, time management and self-confidence were needed and gained by all in the three-day challenge, but the main thing was that the team had fun.

“It was a very enjoyable experience, and I really learned a lot,” said Lidy. “It was very fun and educational and gave us a heads-up on what to expect in the industry in the years to come.”

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