Registered Holstein Herd Reaches Superior Production
Black and white Holstein cattle sit comfortably in the dirt, sun bathing and enjoying an early Colorado morning. These cows are waiting for their turn in the milk parlor, where they give milk that will eventually end up on grocery store shelves.
In a single day, Dyecrest Dairy milks nearly 1,500 cows three times every day. The unique part about this dairy is that it is one of the largest registered Holstein herds in the country, in total they have 3,500 head.
When the cows enter the parlor, they go to the same stall every time to be milked, and in the same order. Tags on the cow’s neck scan her as she goes in, and her production for each milking is recorded.
This high producing herd averages 30,117 pounds of milk per lactation, which is well above industry average. The secret to the dairy’s success is simple: great management and treatment of the cows.
“The unique thing about a dairy cow is the better you treat her, the better she treats you. If you feed them well and take care of them, they produce more. It’s also the right thing to do. We have a moral responsibility to take the best care we can of the animals we have,” said Terence Dye, owner of the dairy.
The roots of this dairy started in New York 42 years ago when Dye decided he wanted to get into the dairy business. At just 23, he found a farm to rent and bought cows on credit. As his business grew, he was able to pay off the cattle and buy the farm.
He then sold the first dairy and bought another larger dairy that had recently gone bankrupt. At the time they were milking roughly 400 head, and wanted to expand. However, the area wouldn’t allow for it.
It was at this time in 1985 that they decided to move the dairy to Colorado, and settled just outside of Fort Collins, Colo. The dairy today was originally a bankrupt feedlot, and they retrofitted it and constructed new pens and the parlor.
Since that time, the dairy has expanded. Last summer, the family purchased a second dairy just South of the current dairy, and they milk an additional 370 cattle there every day as well. This dairy is called Dyeland Dairy.
“I hadn’t planned on expanding, but it was for sale so I bought it. You just have to be financially strong enough that if an opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it,” said Terence Dye.
The cattle at both dairies are managed the same. Each group of cattle is fed specifically to their needs, and a nutritionist comes several times a year to make sure the cattle are receiving the nutrition they need.
“Every cow has access to one headlock and one freestall. We only stock our pens at 100 percent, so every cow could eat at one time if she wanted to. Many dairies stock over that rate, but we feel it’s important to not overcrowd the cattle,” said Amanda Dye.
The cattle can eat as much as they want every day, which helps them to produce more milk. The dairy owns its own hay ground, and the hay that is produced helps the dairy to negate risk.
They are also given access to a drylot on days when the weather is nice, and they are moved around and lay out in the sun. “We find the cows like to be able to go outside and be in the sun,” said Amanda Dye.
In addition to nutrition, the dairy also uses the best genetics every year to improve the herd for milk production. “We breed for production, but put in minimal udder traits. We want a cow that has an average udder, but with good capacity and that is well attached,” said Amanda Dye.
Although many dairies have issues with structure, this dairy does not. “The cow’s feet are trimmed every year. They are also not on concrete all the time because they have access to the drylots, and that helps a lot as well,” she said.
All of the cattle are bred using artificial insemination, and the cows are checked visually every two hours, 24 hours a day for signs of heat. Dyecrest Dairy also gives their cows longer lactations, as they are bred later in their lactation than what many dairies do.
The cattle are bred 110-150 days after calving, and are taken out of lactation roughly 60 days before they are due to calve again. This gives the cows ample time to gain body condition, and have time to rest.
One thing that is very unique at this dairy is how the calves are treated. Like most dairies, the calves are removed from their mothers when they are born and put into huts. However, these calves are put on a leash instead of a small pen, and it allows them to have more room to exercise and lay.
The calves are handled twice a day every day. They are given milk in a bottle by hand, and receive electrolytes each day as well. Amanda Dye, daughter of Terence and the cow manager, said, “Every calf is treated the same whether it is a heifer, bull or steer. This makes the calves more friendly, and they are handled every day.”
Many of the bull calves will go on to be studs in an artificial insemination program, or herd bulls for other dairies. The best heifer calves will be kept as replacements, and the rest, along with the steers, are sold.
The best of the cattle are evaluated each year, and those that are considered the best in the herd may go into an embryo transfer program. Embryo transfer, or the process of taking an embryo (fertilized egg) out of a female (donor cow) and implanting it into another female (recipient cow) has been around for decades.
The process of embryo transfer is fairly simple, and yet highly effective. Cattle must go through a super ovulation process, which encourage their bodies to ovulate more than one egg at a time.
When the cow is inseminated, most of the eggs are fertilized, and about a week later the cow’s uterus is flushed and the multiple embryos collected. These are then put into recipient cows that are in the same stage of their heat cycle.
“We average about a 50 percent conception rate on our recipient cows, which is pretty good,” said Amanda Dye.
One part of the dairy that is extremely important to the Dye’s is taking care of the land they are on. “We spent a lot of money making sure we are environmentally friendly. You have to be aware of it every day. We try to keep things neat and tidy and clean,” he said.
The dairy is progressive in their genetics, and every year makes improvements in the herd. However, the dairy is not looking to continue to expand.
“We can’t see expanding from where it is. We do the best job we can with what we have here. We get along really good in this neighborhood the way we are,” Terence Dye said.
He added, “If I own it I want it taken care of correctly. At the end of the day, it needs to be well-run.”