Monthly Archives: December 2012

Dairy Tour

Alright… it’s high time to get the nickel-tour of the dairy!



This is our feeding barn… we bring our cows up group by group to be fed before they walk into the parlour to be milked.

DSC01375    DSC01427

Here is our commodity barn where we store the different grains that we use in our feeds. Parked next to it is the reel auggie that we use to custom mix and measure the cows’ feed rations. We use a combination of corn meal, soybean meal, and cottonseed in different ratios, depending on the nutritional needs of that group.


While the cows are eating their grain ration, we can lock their heads in place to allow us to safely perform “cow maintenance” tasks such as applying tail chalk and AI breeding (see previous post on preparations for breeding season!), replacing lost name tags, and monitoring their feed intake.


Where is your name tag, missy?? Luckily she is wearing a transponder collar that can still identify her electronically when she walks into the parlour to be milked. Identity is very important at the dairy, especially for keeping track of all of our crossbreeding data! Check out the abstract of a recent publication on crossbreeding data collected on the CEFS Cherry Dairy herd!



Once the cows have finished eating, they then walk to the end of the barn to have a drink before entering the parlour.


Here is what one of the the milking parlor lanes looks like to a cow. We have two lanes of cows milking at once, as part of a “swing parlor” milk system design. Cows are identified as they walk into the parlor, and each milking cup has an associated computer that shows you her number and how much milk she has produced during this milking. Once she finishes milking, you swing the arm over to the other side of the parlor and the computer then shows the number of the corresponding cow on the other side. It is a very efficient design, especially for milking multiple groups of cows!


Once the cows are finished milking, they walk through our Spalding Labs fly vac as part of a research experiment on controlling flies of different species. This design specifically targets face flies, which are a problem pest in eastern North Carolina, along with other fly species. Basically, the machine blows air onto the cows to disturb the flies, and then vacuums them up into a collecting vessel that contains them. I love this system–it is an excellent form of fly control that avoids using noxious fly repellents!

DSC01454  DSC01387

It takes some getting used to for the heifers who have never seen a fly vac before, much less walked through one! But after a few tries they don’t mind walking through it at all–the blowers and vacuums are very quiet and most of the time we forget that it’s even on.


Here is the netting where the flies are collected. These flies will be identified, quantified, and sampled to determine what diseases they might play a role in transmitting from animal to animal on our farm. Research like this will help us better understand what contributes to mastitis outbreaks on dairy farms, and how fly control might play a role in averting these outbreaks!

That’s all for the tour!


New Season, New Chores

We are reaching the end of calving season, with only about 20 more pregnant cows and heifers in the close up lot. We have already weaned two groups of calves off of their milk onto hay and sweet feed, with a third group on the way! It is hard to believe how quickly they have grown up…


However, at the dairy our work is never finished. Chores are always changing based on the time of year, and we have already started gearing up for our next breeding season. Right now, we are checking to make sure that all of our cows and heifers are cycling normally (i.e. coming into heat about once every 18-24 days) before we start breeding on January 1st. In our seasonally bred herd, it is very important to get the heifers bred on the first try if possible, so that they do not fall behind the rest!

Here is a short video showing what it means to “check heats.” In this video, the black heifer with brown ears is the one who is in heat. We call this a “standing heat” since she stands there receptively and lets the red jersey heifer mount her without running away. As you can see, they are very friendly–they always lick my jacket and boots and use me as a scratching post when I am standing out there checking heats 🙂

There are also two other methods used to check heats: tail chalk/paint and estrotect patches, both of which work on the same principle: the cow or heifer who is mounting will rub her sternum/brisket on the tail head of the one who is in heat. With tail chalk, this means that the color of the chalk is worn away by the friction. With estrotect patches, the patch changes color when it is rubbed or scratched (sort-of like a lottery ticket). Once we know that she is in heat, we record it in the computer so that we know when to expect her to come into heat again and we can be ready to breed her starting January 1. When a heifer or cow is determined to be in heat, we have t-minus 24 hours to breed her successfully, otherwise we will have to wait another 18-24 days for her to come into heat again. We will aim to have all of our cows and heifers bred by April 2013. Since their gestation lengths range from 9 to 9.5 months (or 270 – 285 days) in our herd, this puts next year’s calving season right on schedule to occur between September and December 2013.

Dr. Alley will be out on Thursday to perform post-partum (i.e. post-calving) checks on our cows to make sure that they are healthy and ready to be bred again. Time to study up on my reproductive anatomy and get some more palpation experience!