“A lot has changed since we came back home in 2009!” said Rob Dygert of Dygert Dairy, Nelliston, NY.
Dygert had come back as the 13th generation farmer with his wife Shannon to take over the farm he had grown up on; a farm that has been in the family since 1723.
“We started out milking 60 cows in the original tie stall,” Dygert recalls. “Since then we have added two, 100 cow free stall barns, converted to a double 8 parallel parlor where we now milk 130 cows, built bunker silos and — through Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District — were able to build a manure storage and implement several other beneficial environmental practices.”
By 2011, through hard work and diligence, the young family had done enough work on the farm to win the distinguished Dairy of Distinction award.
“Our families have played a huge role in helping us expand the farm from endless labor, to helping build barns, problem solving and running errands, which we are very grateful for,” said Shannon.
Dygert says cow comfort is a priority at the dairy and when building the new free stall barn, a 3-row free stall with an enclosed feed alley was added. The barn also features high sidewalls with curtains for natural ventilation.
“In the design process we worked with several consultants in the industry including our feed salesman and CNY Dairy Specialist Dave Balbian, to insure cow comfort. Our barn has deep sand beds, fans for the summer heat, the barn is oriented east to west to keep the sun off the cows and help with proper ventilation, and our stalls are large enough for comfort, but small enough to ensure cleanliness.”
Shredded paper is used for bedding in some areas.
Dygert, who attends many CNY Cornell dairy lectures and workshops, says he has also divided the 130 milking cows into two groups based on information presented by Balbian.
“One group is first lactation and the other group is mature cows, we did this so that the younger animals do not have to compete with the older animals.”
This management procedure is expected to result in a 5-pound increase in peak milk for the first lactation animals.
“We have just recently split the cows into the two groups, so it is too early to tell if this will tell true and how much of an affect it will have.”
In addition to the milking cows, Dygert’s also have two dry groups, one far off and one pre-fresh.
“The new free stall recently completed has allowed us to split cows into these groups and add a much larger calving pen.”
Dygert remarked that when he was designing the new free stall barn, recommendations were to use two to three times more of the LED lighting than what was actually installed.
“The lights were $390 a fixture and with finances a limiting factor, we opted to install fewer lights, but we still have ample lighting in our free stall,” Dygert explained. “Lighting was not our number one limiting factor in production.”
In the future, more lights may be installed to assist with long day lighting, which has been reported to bolster milk production.
Dygert says some of the newer technologies used on his farm include GPS for applying fertilizer and herbicides on their 200 acres of crops and a Dairy Comp computer program that provides a variety of programs, reports and worksheets to assist him in managing the herd. He also uses ultrasound for pregnancy checks.
Over the past year Dygerts have begun distributing glass bottled milk from Meadowbrook Dairy in Clarksville, NY, currently distributing milk to 10 retail stores and several home delivery customers.
“We see a need in our area for this,” acknowledged Shannon. “Our goal is to build a bottling plant at our farm and bottle our own milk to sell. This will allow us the ability to have our children join the family business if they choose so.”
Shannon oversees the glass bottled milk sales and takes care of the three young children; Dylan, 4; Olivia, 2; and Tucker, 10 months while helping with farm chores.
Some struggles include balancing life with the young growing family, while trying to expand and modernize the farm with the volatility of the milk price.
“We enjoy our family time that is spent in the barn, taking care of the cows, tractor and skidsteer rides and the farm life, but look forward to time off the farm with our families and friends.”
The young farmers plan to “keep growing and diversifying” and offer some advice for other young folks who are interested in going into the dairy industry.
“Work for someone else and gain valuable experience which can be brought to your own business,” advises Dygert, who had, himself worked off of the family farm for 8 years at another profitable dairy, where he says he gained “much knowledge and experience before returning to take over Dygert Farms.”
“Always be willing to listen to ideas from others,” he advises. “Some small changes in one’s business can result in significant changes in revenue.”
Dygert’s practice and advocate preventative care with their herd, and are active members of the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program, which is sponsored by the NYS Dept. of Ag & Markets and promotes “Animal Health, Food Safety, and Environmental Stewardship.”