Piedmont Jerseys maintains profitability with grazing

CM-MR-2-Piedmont 1by Karl H. Kazaks
LINCOLNTON, NC — The Lutz family is known for their long history of breeding of quality Jersey cattle and being significant members of North Carolina’s dairy community. The family has raised Jerseys since the early 1900s and has exhibited at the North Carolina State Fair every year since 1936.
Today three Lutz brothers — Corey, Kevin, and Wayne — operate separate Jersey dairies in the Old North State. All have been recognized for the quality of their herds and are important Jersey dairymen. But Corey — who operates Piedmont Jerseys with his wife Bridgette — has recently received a number of honors.
Piedmont Jerseys is the current (2013) recipient of the Marvin E. Senger Distinguished Producer Award, given each year to a North Carolina dairy farmer. Winners are chosen based on their leadership in local, regional, and national dairy and farm organizations, as well as their production management practices and use of technology. Among the many ways Corey has served the dairy community is his current tenure as a director of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA).
Corey has been operating Piedmont Jerseys since 1997, when he left the home dairy near Hickory. It was with the move to the new farm (which the home farm had used as a satellite farm for raising heifers and growing crops) that Lutz decided to use managed intensive grazing.
With the dairy industry evolving, he said, “We needed to find a way to maintain profitability without getting bigger to 500 or 1000 cows.” Counting dry cows, today the dairy has about 255 cows. The dairy is 100 percent registered Jersey.
“With grazing,” Lutz continued, “there’s less feed cost, less time hauling feed, less time hauling manure.” His dairy, he said, generates half the amount of stored manure it would if it were confinement. “Cows do the harvesting and manure spreading themselves,” he said. “It really cuts our costs.”
Prior to moving to the new farm, Lutz’s cows did go out on grass but he did not practice grazing. Since he was building the farm almost from scratch, he was able, he said, “to build this operation to suit grazing.”
For example, he built his main stock trail to best access the several grazing pastures. The farm, which is situated in a horseshoe bend of the South Fork of the Catawba River, has about 25 paddocks with an average size of about four acres. Depending on the time of the year and the amount of available grass, Lutz will give his cows between three-quarters of an acre and four acres of forage at each break. There are also four shade paddocks populated with trees which are used in the warmer months.
Lutz has installed a watering line along one side of the main stock trail. Along the other side is an irrigation line for the hard hose irrigation system Lutz uses to manage his forage and crops and to spread liquid manure. Lutz recently supplemented his irrigation system by adding a 25hp pump to draw from the river.
Since his herd spends most of its time outdoors, Lutz decided to forego installing fans in the barns. Instead, he situated the facilities atop a hill to capture natural air flow. The feed barn — which is the center part of a freestall barn without the freestalls — also has high eaves and a high ridgeline to allow heat to rise.
“We focus on higher production than people expect from grazing,” Lutz said. His rolling herd average is 18,263 milk, 842 butterfat, and 652 protein.
One of the reasons Lutz emphasizes production is that each year he markets between 80 and 110 dairy replacements. “We’ve sent cattle to pretty much all around the U.S.” Lutz said. “We just sent a load to Puerto Rico.” He sells private treaty and enters regional and national sales.
When it comes to genetics, Lutz focuses on high production and type. “We’re looking for good udder cows that last a long time and give a lot of milk,” Lutz said. The herd classification average is 85.6, with 54 scoring Excellent. There are seven or eight which score Desirable but the rest score Very Good.
Even though his dairy is grazing, Lutz stressed that his cows will perform in all systems. “We’re not breeding cows specifically for grazing,” he said. “A cow that does best in confinement does best here.”
One advantage of grazing is the herd averages probably two to three lactations more than a confinement herd. “We don’t have to cull for mobility problems,” Lutz said. Instead, he culls for production or udder issues. “Some of our cows have had 10 or more lactations.”
Lutz buys concentrates and raises his own forage, some 100 acres of corn silage and 60 acres of small grain (barley and triticale) silage. He feeds between 25 pounds of silage per day in the summer to 60 pounds per day in the winter. Lutz estimates that 60-65 percent of forage fed on his dairy comes from grazing. The dairy also feeds 17-24 pounds of concentrates per cow per day, usually a mix of whole corn and hominy. That’s also currently being supplemented with cottonseed and molasses.
Forages grazed include cereal rye and ryegrass in the winter, BMR Sudex and alfalfa in the summer, and matua grass and an orchard-grass-alfalfa mix to fill the gaps. Ryegrass can be grazed into late June, at which point the stand typically converts to crabgrass, which Lutz will graze before establishing a new ryegrass stand. “We graze a lot of rye grass,” he said.
“When we started grazing alfalfa people said we’d never be able to keep a stand,” he continued. But he’s been able to disprove the doubters, with a healthy six year old stand still going strong. He’ll make baleage two times from the alfalfa and then incorporate it into his grazing rotation.
“The key to grazing alfalfa is to graze it right,” he said. That means allowing the cattle on for only six or eight hours at a time and using Roundup Ready® alfalfa. “Cows bring in a lot of weeds,” he said. Roundup® allows him to keep the stand clean. What’s more, he immediately follows grazing with irrigation to boost regrowth.
Managing the different pastures is a constant balancing act, but it’s a price Lutz is glad to pay for the consequent savings he realizes in feed, fuel, and equipment costs.
Lutz is currently in the process of renovating his heifer pastures. “Our heifers get excellent growth on fresh ryegrass or rye,” he said. “Better than from silage or good high-quality hay.”
In fact, when given the option of hay or a good stay of rye or ryegrass, heifers will leave the hay to graze on live forage.
That’s the kind of recognition — as much as he appreciates his recent honors — that Lutz really likes to receive.

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