by Sally Colby
Yippee! Farms is big, but there are no expansive modern freestall barns and no double-18 herringbone parlor. None of the barns are drive-through, so mixing feed for the cows and replacement stock in seven locations is a full-time job. Calves are housed simply and bred heifers are raised in barns on several farms. But the 830 milking cows are healthy and well-managed, and consistently maintain a RHA of 29,000 pounds.
How do Yippee! Farms owners Arlin and Deborah Benner do it? By making sure the little things are done right at their common-sense, no-frills dairy in Mount Joy, PA.
One of the three farms that comprise Yippee Farms is where Benner was raised, and where he learned from a young age that the cows always come first. That farm houses 120 cows in an improved bank barn. The Randy Farm, named for the person from whom it was purchased, houses 280 cows that are milked in a double-six herringbone parlor. Yippee! Farms houses the rest of the herd.
Bob Krammes, of Red Dale Ag, is the feed consultant for Yippee! Farms and has some thoughts about the Benners’ success.
“It’s his attitude,” said Krammes as he described his client. “He has genuine respect for the people he surrounds himself with. He gets respect in return, and shared enthusiasm for the success.”
Krammes, who meets with Benner every other week, says that while Yippee! Farms may not have the most modern equipment and parlors, emphasis on the basics has paid off. “The focus is always on herd health and reproduction, not production,” he said. “High production comes when cows are healthy. There’s a good genetic base here, and cows are comfortable. There’s an attitude of continual improvement in all aspects of management.” Krammes added that Benner firmly believes in optimum management of all aspects of the farm, regardless of milk price, because the highs and lows balance out over time.
Despite overcrowding by as much as 20 percent, routine barn walks and review of records shows that animals are healthy. Krammes suggests perhaps this is due to what happens when cows are crowded. “When cows are at the bunk, they’re eating,” he said. “When they get a stall, they use it. Because of the 3x milking, there’s enough activity that stalls are used equally. There’s very little feed waste. Cows are not fed refusals.” Krammes says a typical dairy herd has a feed conversion of 1.6:1, while cows at Yippee! Farms convert at 1.8:1, which he says is both remarkable and profitable.
Herd veterinarian Dr. Bridget Griffin and herdsman Bryan Allman work closely to adjust diets according to herd needs. Heifers are periodically assessed for size and condition to make sure they’re in the optimum percentile for future production.
Griffin says the herd is set up for high production from the start. “This farm has good colostrum management,” she said. “By a week of age, calves get one gallon (of milk) twice a day. They’re doubling their birth weight within 60 days. Research shows if you can double the calf’s birth weight in 60 days, you get 1,500 pounds more pounds more milk in the first lactation, and 1,000 pounds more in each lactation after that.”
Griffin visits the farm every Friday for sick cow and pregnancy checks. “We do preg checks at 35 days to 42 days,” she explained. “Cows from 90 to 128 days are milk progesterone tested by Lancaster DHIA. I do a final preg check prior to dry-off.”
A one-group TMR is fed throughout the herd. The ration includes 70 percent forage, primarily from BMR corn silage, with alfalfa, rye and wet brewers grains. High moisture corn, which drives production, is also a major part of diet. Because high-quality forage is the basis for the feeding program, there isn’t any low-quality forage for lower energy diets. For these rations, straw is added to help regulate feed passage rate. Far-off and pre-fresh diets also include straw.
The goal for feeding dry cows is maintaining body condition. The pre-fresh ration is balanced for metabolizable protein, which contributes to higher peaks and peaks that come sooner. This means higher production throughout lactation. Heifers are fed a TMR based on age, with ample straw or hay to dilute the high-quality forages.
Cow comfort is a priority on each farm. Stalls are equipped with foam memory mattress over a pasture mat, topped with deep bedding. Fans, sprinklers and cow coolers add to comfort. “Fans are set to turn on at about 50 degrees because Arlin knows that cows like it cold,” said Griffin. “Everything is geared toward making it comfortable for the cows.”
Bedding stalls on three farms, each with a different barn system, is time-consuming but contributes to cow comfort. Each of the three farms includes a fresh cow and springer pen, all bedded with shavings. Although shavings are expensive, pens and stalls are bedded aggressively and used three times. First, the fresh cow pens are bedded with shavings. When those pens are cleaned out, that bedding goes through a beater spreader and stored in piles under roof. Those shavings are used to bed freestalls. After that, the shavings are in manure system, and end up in the digester to help produce electricity for the farm.
Because milk weights are not recorded in parlors, the only way a sick cow will be noticed is by observation. “We can’t hit print to find out how much the cow milked,” said Allman. “It’s all visual. We rely on workers to detect animals that should be checked. It takes someone looking at the cows.”
What’s next for Yippee! Farms? The potential addition of a fourth farm, where the tradition of excellent cow care will continue.
by Sally Colby