MARKESAN, Wis. – “We’re always trying to breed the perfect cow, but you can never have enough ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’ cows,” says Loren Greenfield. Several cows in his family’s dairy herd this spring were classified Very Good or Excellent by Holstein Association USA.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment because it’s not an easy process,” Greenfield said. “We’re constantly working on improving our genetics.”
He credits his cousin, Kevin Greenfield, for the farm’s breeding program. The family likes “pretty cows,” the type that can win shows. But milk is what pays the bills, Loren Greenfield said.
The Greenfield family and 22 employees manage 1,300 head of cattle and 1,100 acres at Hilltop Dairy LLC near Markesan. To manage a high-scoring Holstein herd they focus on four main elements
- clean stalls and bedding
- nutrition and feed quality
“We breed for type, but we’ve also focused more on dairy strength the past few years,” Greenfield said.
That involves greater milk production per cow and improved pregnancy rate. Cows possessing dairy strength aren’t necessarily show types; they’re a little shorter and stronger to perform well in freestall barns, he said.
“But we also want good classification scores,” he said. “We sell cows to other farms and buyers want cows with good milk-production potential – total pounds, low somatic-cell count, good udders, and strong feet and legs.”
Fat and protein components also are becoming more important.
“More farmers are watching for components because we’re now seeing better payment for them,” he said.
Clean stalls and bedding have made a large impact on herd performance.
“We’ve operated in a freestall barn for 18 years,” he said. “We had been using dried manure solids for bedding, but were seeing too much mastitis and sick cows. We switched to sand bedding in 2006 and it was like a light bulb went off. Mastitis and somatic-cell count dropped significantly.”
The herd’s last somatic-cell count was just 89,000. Cows are milked three times daily. The rolling herd average is 29,500 pounds, with 3.9 percent fat and 3.3 percent protein.
The team at Hilltop Dairy, Greenfield said, is focused on good cow health and nutrition. Most of the feed is homegrown; the Greenfields produce corn for silage and alfalfa for hay.
“Our people are great,” Greenfield said, adding that many have worked at the farm for more than 10 years. “They’re attuned to animal care and welfare. Every cow is important.”
Brad Fosum is an area sales manager for Select Sires. He’s known the Greenfield family for 17 years.
“They have a well-managed herd and really good cows,” he said. “Their mating decisions are impeccable. Kevin makes the ultimate decisions and deserves a big pat on the back. Even though they have a large herd, the cows still receive a personal touch.”
Al White, an area sales representative for ST Genetics, has worked with the Greenfield family for 11 years.
“They’re great dairy farmers,” he said. “They’re business-oriented and pay close attention to their herd.”
The biggest challenge of producing a good-quality herd is balance; it can be easy to produce a lot of milk but one can sacrifice type, Greenfield said.
“Traits offset each other,” he said. “But genetic companies are doing a good job of bringing that (gap) closer together.”
Advances in genomics also are helping dairy breeders move closer to breeding that perfect cow, he said.
Hilltop Dairy will host a “Cream of the Crop” sale from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 1 at the farm at N309 County Road Q, Markesan, Wisconsin. Visit facebook.com/hilltopdairy for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.