By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
By breeding for health and longevity rather than type, one American dairy farmer says he has been able to eliminate antibiotic use in his lactating cows.
“We do not think antibiotics are bad. We have cut them out to cut costs and improve performance,” says Lloyd Holterman of Rosy-Lane Holsteins near Watertown, Wisconsin.
With a production-oriented, cost-savings approach to dairy farming, Holterman says he’s been able to remain profitable in the volatile American dairy industry.
This cross-border perspective was shared with dairy farmers at the Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week Dairy Day held on January 6 in Elmwood. The yearly, week-long event is organized by Grey Agricultural Services to educate farmers in the region.
Passionate about agriculture and determined to remain profitable while milking almost 1,100 cattle in outdated housing, Holterman says being able to raise and milk older cows is the key to making money.
He used genetics to achieve this goal and commented that he could talk about genetics all day. However, the focus of the talk was on reducing antibiotic usage while still achieving higher production and better financials. It’s important to note he eliminated antibiotics among lactating cows but still uses medicine on calves and dry cows.
Holterman says he started dairy farming in 1980 on a real “fixer-upper” in a dairy economy that he described as very unforgiving. “You can’t make money every year but you’d better make money four out of five years or else it is time to exit the business and make room for someone who can do it better than you.” Holterman says they had a dismal 2017 but a great 2018 and 2019.
Holterman is clearly decisive, vocal about his opinions, determined and passionate about cattle. He said the dairy farms he toured in Grey- Bruce were beautiful but wasn’t afraid to add American farms don’t benefit from government subsidies. “A lot of us in the United States envy your system but we do not have it.”
Relying on teamwork from his wife Daphne who manages the accounting, public relations, and animal-care-advocacy plus two managers who are transitioning into the business, the couple also manages two other farms. “We have a lot going on but we think life is full of opportunities.”
Holterman says the farm’s overall goal is to produce 1.7 pounds of milk per pound of dry matter. The Wisconsin average is 1.4 pounds and Rosy-Lane cattle produce just short of 1.7 pounds. Another goal is to average $875 profit per cow before taxes.
He says it starts with people doing quality work. Cows are milked 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the farm and that requires intense management. The things every dairy farmer knows – big stalls, fresh air, good nutrition, lots of space (don’t overcrowd), fresh water and excellent ventilation are all key to raising a healthy cow.
Holterman thinks another key point is limiting movement around calving time. Cows about to calve are moved to a pack-bedding pen on his farm and then they are left alone. “We try not to assist for calving because when we interfere, that leads to metritis which leads to ketosis which leads to displaced abomasums,” said Holterman. “We have gone eight to nine years without a single case of ketosis and that’s because we have the right kind of cows that calve easy and we breed for calving ease. It has big payback over the long run.”
The calving area at Rosy-Lane is quite small but over 1,300 cows calve in it a year. “We steam clean and disinfect that area every Thursday and in the summer, if there have been a lot of calvings, we do it twice a week,” says Holterman.
Older cows receive a dose of Bovikalc to avoid milk fever. Upon calving, both the cows and calf are fed within 30 minutes. Holterman admits with staff at the farm 24 hours a day, this goal is easier to accomplish than for smaller farmers. “There are advantages to being bigger,” he says.
Holterman then showed a picture of his favourite cow on screen. The moderate-sized cow would not win a dairy show but Holterman says she had produced over 100,000 litres of milk in her lifetime all while never getting sick, never having mastitis, catches on the first try and doesn’t need her feet trimmed.
“If I had 1,100 cows like her, it would be an easy life,” laughs Holterman. This is one of the cows he flushes to build up his herd.
After calving, the cattle move into the milking stream based on speed of milking, versus transition feeding. “We haven’t fed a transition diet for 23 years,” says Holterman. “Again, we leave them alone. Why are robots so successful? The cows milk more and perform at higher levels because you stay out of their way.”
As to antibiotic use, Holterman says the goal at Rosy-Lane is to eradicate diseases such a mycoplasma, Staphylococcus aureus mastitis, Streptococcus agalactiae mastitis, bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and Johnes in the herd.
Part of that process involves shipping most infected cows. “We used to separate the cows with staph aureus but once we got down to 10 per cent of cows that tested positive, we decided to get rid of them. The cost savings of not having to deal with those diseases has been tremendous,” he says. The farm vaccinated its way out of Johnes.
For mastitis control, Holterman says at their farm, they needed to look at it differently. First off, they consulted an expert to find out what they could do better. “Turns out the bacteria we were treating did not respond well to antibiotics. The expert advised putting the cattle on fluids, both in the rumen and in the veins. It worked.” The ones that didn’t respond to this treatment were shipped.
“It’s all about prevention. We use EndovacBovi, we scrape cow alleys three times a day, we add fresh sand twice a week and we breed for mastitis resistance,” says Holter-man.
Vet costs were reduced from $186 per cow to $92 per cow.
When choosing bulls, Holterman said at one time they went heavy with Oman. “People warned us to be careful with him because wisdom of the day said he needed more type to create longevity. In reality, what we needed was cows that resist disease and lameness. Oman gave us cows that had great calving ease, high fat and protein,” says Holterman. “You won’t see his daughters at the Royal Winter Fair but you will see them in the most profitable herds in North America.”
Bulls currently being used at Rosy-Lane include Crimson, Legacy, Solution, Rome, Windu, Singer, Media and Avatar.
“When breeding, you need to have a strategy and put some longevity and production into your choice,” advises Holterman. “Spend money on genetics and you will do well,” he concluded. ◊