4-H members take on dairy challenge
PRIMGHAR – John Westra is a man on a mission to not only making his dairy succeed, but to pass on his knowledge of the care, feeding and breeding of dairy cows – along with his personal management beliefs – to the next generation.
Westra and his wife, Rochelle, hosted 22 4-H members, grades five through 12, on Saturday for the Iowa State University Extension ‘s “Youth Dairy Challenge: Gaining and Expanding Dairy Knowledge and Skills.”
The youths learned about tracking data about each cow’s health and milk production (about 75 pounds per day each in three milkings), the percentage of butterfat in each cow’s milk (about 3.8), and her somatic cell count as an indicator of an udder infection, along with proper nutrition and an effective preparation for milking.
The 4-H members learned that the dairy mixes five different feed formulas, one each for cows that recently calved, high-producers, low-producers, dry cows, and close-ups, which are cows near to calving.
Split into three groups, the 4-H youths rotated through various areas where they would learn business strategy and planning, proper dairy cow nutrition (and how to get them to eat the blended feed and not just their favorite ingredient), employee leadership, keeping detailed records of each cow’s health and milk production, and the critical steps in preparing a cow’s udder for milking.
Each group was accompanied by an ISU Extension field specialist or another knowledgeable guide.
From a small concrete pad at the open-door end of the milking parlor, Dr. Leo Timms, a professor at Iowa State University Veterinary College and an ISU Extension dairy specialist, provided a detailed demonstration of properly, efficiently and thoroughly cleaning each cow’s udder prior to milking.
“It’s like harvest,” Timms told the students. “You want to make it clean. If it takes an hour, do you really want to do it in 30 minutes? It’s about your attitude.
“When you’re stripping (cleaning) the udder,” he said, there is a “magical minute” rule for the let-down (of the milk.)”
To demonstrate, Timms used two identical sponges, each soaked in water and wired to a battery and amp meter.
To demonstrate that milk could be left in the udder even if it seems empty, he squeezed one sponge completely its meter showed no charge, or milk.
The other was squeezed only lightly, but it looked as empty as the first. Except that the amp meter showed that “udder” had retained as much as 30 percent of its milk, an amount that would not increase the quantity of the next milking; it would be lost production.
That’s what happens if milking doesn’t begin within one or two minutes after the udder cleaning procedures are completed, he said.
Reasons to learn
Hannah Beach, 11, said she attended the Dairy Challenge even though she has only a cat and a dog, and doesn’t live on a farm.
She said she is interested in farm animals and wants to become a veterinarian.
Meghan Hettinga, an MOC-Floyd Valley High School freshman, from a dairy farm in rural Orange City, said, “I want to learn more so I can help my parents.”
Even Johnny Westra, son of the Summit Dairy’s owners and a freshman at Unity Christian High School in Orange City, said that he had learned a few things about the dairy farm business during the 4-H event.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “I probably will be in the dairy business.”
One group witnessed the birth of a calf in the large maternity pen where cows in various stages of labor stand, lie down or walk, trying to ease their discomfort.
That calving was extra-special for the dairy, John Westra said. The cow that had delivered the calf, ear tag No. 2481, was herself the first calf to be born on the farm two years ago, when the dairy was brand new.
The calf born Saturday was a heifer that will eventually be impregnated, give birth and begin producing milk for the dairy, just as her mother does.
The male calves are sold off about one week after birth.
Students’ reactions to the field day were generally positive in every category of the evaluation form, especially for animal care, said Emily Kurtzleben a representative of Elanco, a dairy services company. A few minor chores around the farm had not been done, because of the field day.
“This dairy is goal-oriented,” Kurtzleben told the youths. “If you don’t have goals, you achieve nothing.”
John Westra said he spoke from the heart sharing their findings regarding the feeding, care and management of his dairy herd.
“You guys are the next people to work on the farms, to have stewardship,” he told the students. “Good employees make this dairy work. Their job is important.
“The biggest thing you kids can do as adults is to go to a person and take responsibility” if they were wrong about something.
He said that he puts that kind of trust in his workers.
They are more skilled at their jobs than he, he said. So he listens to their ideas. If they tell him he was wrong, Westra said, he changes things and apologizes whenever appropriate.
“I don’t fire anyone for correcting me,” he told the 4-H members.
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