International visitors amazed by Dalhart dairies on Jersey Worlds Combine tour
By Bailey Naugle
International dairy producers and Jersey cattle experts from across the country and throughout the world visited several dairy facilities in the Dalhart area last week as part of the 2009 Jersey Worlds Combine tour and annual meeting.
Members of Jersey cattle associations from all over the world come together for this annual event, which is held in a different country each year. This international conference provides producers with an opportunity to network with other dairymen; learn about the latest practices being used in dairy production throughout the world; and celebrate the success of the Jersey breed.
More than 40 guests from 12 countries traveled to Dalhart to view some impressive dairy facilities and learn about the local dairy industry. One Australian dairyman noted, “It’s not often you get so many different nationalities in one place and with one common interest.”
Last Tuesday the excursion began with a guided tour of the Hilmar Cheese Company facility followed by a trip to Avi-Lanche Dairy, winner of the National Dairy Shrine award in the large herd size category. Representatives from Alta Genetics/Jerseyland Sires presented information on the history of their company, the Jersey breed, and Calf’s Choice Total – a new bovine cholostrum product. Jersey sire daughter groups were on exhibit, allowing guests to observe genetic qualities including the cows’ udder quality and frames. During lunch at Avi-Lanche, nutritionalist Gary Holcomb presented an overview of the 10 different feed rations and nutritional philosophy employed at Avi-Lanche.
The group then took a driving tour of Deer Creek Feeding, LLC where Justin Ball, manager, explained that his operation picks up 70 to 100 one-day-old calves from dairies throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas each day, and brings them to the 1,200 acre calf ranch where they are raised until they are old enough to be returned to the dairies. According to Ball, Deer Creek currently bottle feeds 6,000 calves and feeds 8,000 cattle in the corrals, and there are plans to double the size of the facility.
The next stop was a visit to the Boer Dairy where Quality Dairy Construction is working to complete the facility. The Boer children explained that they are fifth generation dairy producers with their great-great-grandparents having dairied in Holland. The Boers plan to be milking 1,800 head within the next two years, and aim to raise their own feed on their 1,400 acre farm.
Following the Boer Dairy, the group visited Full Circle Jerseys who through meticulous care for their animals and the environment recently earned Verified Premium Plus status from the Dairy Quality Center.
Wednesday’s expedition kicked off with a tour of the Dalhart Jersey Ranch which currently houses 16,290 head. A presentation on radio frequency identification (RFID) used for animal identification illustrated that the Dalhart Jersey Ranch is able to manage so many cattle effectively through the use of hi-tech ear tags. When the tag is scanned, the entire history of the animal is brought up on a handheld computer. This enables a producer to identify each individual animal and provide customized care. Brant Kreuscher of Valley Ag Software explained the importance of the technology, “We mass-house animals here, but we don’t raise masses. We raise individuals.”
Throughout the tour, many of the international dairymen explained that the dairies in their countries typically have a capacity of 30 to 200 head. They were amazed at the sheer size of the dairies in the Dalhart vicinity. When asked if there were any questions, an Australian accent piped up, “I believe we’re all in shock.”
After the Dalhart Jersey Ranch, the group visited the Cargill Sweet Bran facility where the popular Sweet Bran feedstuff is produced. Cargill Sweet Bran boasts a consistent product and a consistent supply, reliably delivering 4,300 tons each day to feedyards and dairies from New Mexico to Kansas.
Omega Dairy, near Hartley, was the next stop of the trip. Curt Miersma Jr. explained that Omega was specifically built to be small and efficient with a capacity of 500 head and a milking rate of 500 cows per hour. Omega Dairy is working with Beyond Organic – a startup company determined to revolutionize the energy and dairy industries by creating a reliable energy source and eliminating the expense of waste management through a concept they describe as “poop to fuel.” Beyond Organic plans to use the anaerobic digester, a proven Chinese invention, to convert manure to methane and ultimately create enough of the gas to power dairies and provide a steady supply to power grids.
Omega Dairy was followed by a trip through the Van Ryn Dairy which was started in October of 2007 and is currently milking 2,100 Jerseys.
The last farm tour of the trip was the facility being used by the G2 Dairy, whose permanent facility is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in July.
Mark Ahlem of G2 said that they began milking at the current facility in October of 2008 with only 14 cows, a number that has since grown to 2,350.
G2, along with Deer Creek Feeding, the Boer Dairy and many others, came
to Texas from California. The move was due largely to permitting restrictions that limit the growth of the dairy industry and the local market for Jersey milk that Hilmar created.
Despite industry struggles fueled by poor milk prices and depressed international demand, the Dalhart area is fortunate to still be realizing growth of the local dairy industry. Because of the successful relationships between the dairies and Hilmar, it is estimated that by 2015 the Dalhart area will be home to 300,000 dairy cattle, up from 50,000 in 2009.