Using technology to improve cow quality

CN-MR-4-Using technology 4by Sally Colby


When Roland and Noella Hemond purchased a 150-acre dairy farm in 1945 in Minot, Maine, they milked 25 cows. Today, the R.E. Hemond Farm is home to 600 registered Holsteins and the family farms 800 acres. Family members play an active role in the daily operation of the farm: Noella is president and owner of the farm. Her daughter Lucille handles office work and their son Richard is the co-vice president. Richard’s son Rob is the herdsman, and Ann’s daughter Laurie handles animal records. Tom Cote, a long-time employee at the farm, manages the field work.


The farm has been recognized for outstanding production, and recently received a DHIA award (Androscoggin-Sagadahoc County) for a two-year old ‘Krissy’ that produced over 35,000 pounds in her first lactation. Four months into her second lactation, Krissy is producing 150 pounds/day.
Laurie Miner says that record keeping occupies most of her time, although she also helps out with feeding calves. Miner is currently tracking the results of the latest technology to be introduced on the farm: genomics.
“We’re using genomics to find the lower percentile of the herd,” said Miner, who compared looking at cow genomic reports to reviewing bull proofs. “It’s a trial run for us right now. It’s our first time, so we want to see some results and take it from there.”
Miner says once the genomic report comes back, there are decisions to be made. “If heifer falls into a lower percentile, do we sell her, or raise her and sell her as a bred heifer?” she said. Miner says most of the cows on the farm belong to one of two cow families: the Bits and the Lauries. For heifers from these families, Miner selects names by incorporating ‘Bit’ or ‘Laurie’ in the name. Longevity is a common trait in the herd, with many cows between six and 11 years old.
Over the years, the farm has made improvements including revamped freestall barns and new construction of additional barns. The most recent project at the R.E. Hemond Farm is a rebuild of the oldest barn. “We tore down our old pole barn,” said Miner. “It was built in 1964, and it needed new stalls.”
Another major improvement project was a new parlor installed in June 2012. “We had a double 10 parallel and switched to a DeLaval rapid exit double 12 parallel parlor,” said Miner. “The new parlor is where the old parlor was, so the cows didn’t have to get used to a new environment. We built one side at a time, in between milkings at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. We’re milking more cows in the same amount of time compared to the old parlor.” Miner says that during construction of the new parlor, there were no meters or take-offs.
Freestalls in the milking cow barns are bedded with sand, which Miner says is working well. “The milking herd was on rubber mats a few years ago,” she said. “The cows wouldn’t lay down — all they did was perch. Milk production suffered. It’s been a lot better with the sand.” Calves up to four months are bedded with sawdust or shavings, and heifers are raised in freestall barns with sand bedding. The main barn includes several bedded pack pens for calving, two hospital pens, a newborn pen and a pen for pre-fresh close-up cows.
The farm maintains a rolling herd average of 27,632 and a low somatic cell count. Until the late 80s, the Hemond family bottled their own milk. After discontinuing the bottling operation, they started shipping milk to Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine.
R.E. Hemond Farm has been recognized as a top Oakhurst producer, and in the top 10 for quality in 2006 and 2007.
Miner says that for the past few years, the farm has been using pedometers for heat detection. “Our conception rate and pregnancy rate has gone up from using the pedometers,” she said. “It monitors the cows’ activity, so we know when they’re coming into heat. When a cow is coming into heat, the activity spikes.” Miner noted that sometimes she has to distinguish between loose cows that are moving around a lot versus cows that are showing true heat activity. Cows are bred by A.I. and pregnancy checked by vet every two weeks.
Miner maintains a Facebook page for the farm, and says that her 93-year old grandmother is interested in learning about what’s going on at other dairy farms that are using social media. Miner hopes the farm’s Facebook page will help others learn about the farm and become interested in coming for tours. “This is where I grew up, and I have more respect for my upbringing now that I’m an adult,” she said, adding that growing up on the farm sometimes brought embarrassing moments, such as when the school bus dropped her off as manure was being spread. “I understand a lot more about the industry than when I was a kid. If kids can come here and learn about dairying, it might give them an idea for a career in the agricultural industry.”

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