7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Linda Williams Southwestern Pa. Correspondent
MARTINSBURG, Pa. — Doug Smith farms 400 acres just north of Martinsburg and milks 160 to 180 head of Holsteins, getting 80 pounds of production with a double eight parallel milking system.
The precision technologies at his farm were featured earlier this month in a forum sponsored by the Penn State Extension Dairy Team in partnership with the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.
Smith recently incorporated two of the subjects discussed at the forum — solar energy and cow cooling — into his operation.
The farm uses solar panels, and Smith is hoping to save at least a third on his electricity bill. “We will have a more exact figure once it has been in operation for a year,” he said.
The equipment was installed last fall and includes a solar system for the operation of the barn and milking operation, and a separate system for hot water.
To improve cow comfort in hot weather, Smith installed a cow misting system. The German system used by Smith uses a fan to blow a cooling mist over the cows as they lounge about the barn.
Spray cooling is an evaporative method typically used in holding areas. Water is sprayed intermittently to wet the cow’s skin, and as the moisture evaporates, heat is removed from her body.
According to the presentation, summer heat and humidity are about the same in Florida and Pennsylvania. The difference is that Florida cows become accustomed to the heat while Pennsylvania cows have to cope with temperature fluctuations, which makes it difficult for them to stay comfortable.
Dan McFarland, an agricultural engineering educator at Penn State, spoke on “Seven Things That Can Improve Cow Comfort, Productivity & Well-Being.”
He said farmers can improve the air exchange, provide relief from heat stress, increase bedding amount and frequency, increase stall and alley cleaning, avoid overcrowding groups, improve access to feed and water, and make more space available for special cows.
“If it smells like a barn, you need better ventilations,” was one of his suggestions.
McFarland said no farm ever went broke buying bedding. He said it does not matter if it is organic bedding. “The cows do not care,” he said.
He noted that feed should be available at least 21 hours a day. “Cows may eat 10 to 12 meals a day, spending up to six hours consuming feedstuffs,” he said, “so having feed available to cows — and cows available to feed — is essential.”
Cows also should always be within 50 feet of drinking water.
McFarland said it is important to make space for special cows.
“Some claim the most important stage of lactation is minus 60 days in milk,” he said. “If so, dry, maternity and post-fresh cows require special attention to their environment to minimize stress. Typically, 30 percent more space than required for uniform scheduling is needed to accommodate periodic overcrowding, improve cleanliness and reduce stress.”
As for solar energy, Marty Clemmer of Paradise Energy said the financial benefits include increased property value, long-term electric savings, solar renewable energy credits, and federal, state and utility credits and rebates.
USDA grants could provide up to 25 percent funding, and there is an 80 percent success rate in obtaining the grants. Clemmer said a 100-cow dairy operation might expect a 15.8 percent return on its solar investment over 6.3 years.
Ximena del Campo, Extension dairy educator with Penn State, talked about Hispanic labor, focusing on how cultural differences influence the interactions between Hispanic farmworkers and the farm owner.
She pointed out that even though they all speak Spanish, not all Hispanics are the same. There are differences based on what country they come from, and people from different countries may not work well together.
“In general,” she said, “Hispanics are very group-oriented. Promoting or praising one member of the group in front of the rest is a good idea.”
Dale Schnupp from Schnupp’s Grain Roasting was there to promote roasting manure as bedding for dairy cows.
Roasting the manure helps to kill pathogenic organisms, allowing the farmer to produce low-cost bedding on the farm and not have to purchase higher-cost products such as sawdust or straw.