Although Corinne and Bill Banker started dairy farming in Connecticut in 1988, they made a move to New York. The Bankers kept some youngstock but sold the cows they owned and purchased the cows and equipment already on the Morrisville, NY, farm. With the addition of their 30 heifers and a group of heifer calves, the Bankers started Blue Hill Farm.
In 2014, the Bankers completed a small expansion on the farm, then a larger expansion in 2017. During that time, they switched from twice to thrice daily milking. The Bankers realized some of the initial improvements they made were less than ideal, and they’ve since made changes that put the cows first.
Today, the herd totals 240 milking and dry cows, primarily Holsteins. For efficient management and optimum production, cows are managed in groups. “We have a first calf heifer group, a fresh cow group, a late lactation group and a high group,” said Corinne. “Each group has no more than 60 cows so we can get them in and out of the parlor in an hour or less.”
Cows are milked in a double-5 herringbone parlor. “We’ve done some structural upgrades,” said Corinne, “and we’d like to do some hardware upgrades with pulsators and take-offs.”
With the use of SCR ear tags, the Bankers can keep data on individual cows, and Corinne said the system has helped improve reproductive efficiency.
One of Corinne’s tasks on the farm is sire selection. “I’m looking for high fertility, tight rear udder attachment, wide rear teat placement and feet and legs,” she said. “We’re breeding for milk production, and our goal is a herd average of seven pounds of combined fat and protein.” The herd is on the right track, with 6.92 lbs. in February, 7 lbs. in March and 6.95 lbs. in April.
While there’s a genetic component to fat and protein levels, diet also contributes to good numbers. “A high forage diet adds to the ability to get to seven pounds,” Corinne said.
To maintain stable herd numbers, the Bankers raise eight heifer calves each month. Each cow’s genetic potential is assessed based on parameters established by the Bankers. Corinne reviews the list of cows due to calve each month and notes which cows’ heifer calves will be retained. After eight replacement quality heifers are born in a month, the rest are sold.
Bill does the majority of AI on the farm using bulls from Select Sires and ABS. The lower 30% of the herd is bred to beef. First calf heifers are bred with sexed semen to take advantage of the highest genetic potential in heifers.
Bill and his brother Bruce manage several aspects of the farm, including crops. “Bill makes sure the crops are started on the timeline we want, and Bruce does the mowing and chopping,” said Corinne. “We have some employees who help with mowing, merging, hauling wagons and packing.”
The Bankers use the services of the Potter family’s Dairy Support Services Co. for help with manure application, corn planting, chopping haylage and assistance during corn harvest. Corinne said using a custom operator has eased some of the stress that results from the constant push to get crops planted and harvested on time.
“We asked them for help a few years ago,” said Corinne. “Our son was getting married in October and we weren’t done [in the field]. We asked if they could help finish up so we could enjoy the wedding without having to worry about corn. It did so much for our mental health, and they’ve been helping us ever since.”
Cows are comfortable in free-stall barns bedded with sand. Manure from the oldest barn, which also houses the parlor, goes into a pit via a push ramp. Manure from the two newer barns goes into a pump house, and from there, it’s moved to a 2.2 million-gallon storage pit behind the barn.
“We empty the pit with drag lines and some trucks, but we try to use drag lines in the fall and spring as much as possible for manure that’s going to corn ground,” said Corinne. “After second cutting, manure goes on hay ground.”
Since sand ends up in the pit, the Bankers try to balance liquid and solid levels in the pit. They also bring in some of the manure from the heifer barn. They’re bedded with sawdust and they bring that bedding into the pit so the sand stays in suspension.
To manage settled sand below the liquid portion of the pit, Dairy Support Services stirs the pit prior to removal. “They spend about 10 to 15 hours every fall and spring stirring the manure,” said Corinne. “It’s an expensive process, but it’s also expensive to bring in an excavator to dig out the sand. So far we’ve been able to avoid sand build-up in the pit, which has been in place since 2019.”
In addition to playing an integral role on the farm, Corinne has been serving as the secretary for the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC) for about 11 years. One of NYAAC’s services Corinne finds useful is a newsletter program that helps farmers communicate with neighbors about what’s happening on the farm and encourages neighbors to contact the farm with questions.
“We use that in conjunction with the farm’s Facebook page,” said Corinne. “I’ve also gotten a lot of education about how to run a farm Facebook page and other social media.”
Corinne helps with NYAAC’s Birthing Center at the New York State Fair, where she appreciates the opportunity to talk with consumers regarding misconceptions about animal ag and helps alleviate concerns.
“If we can tell the story about modern animal agriculture, people don’t think we’re all milking cows in little red barns,” said Corinne. “If we can increase public awareness about how we take care of animal welfare, we win.”
Visit Blue Hill Farm at facebook.com/BlueHillFarmNY.
by Sally Colby