Four years after immigrating to the U.S. from the Netherlands, Tony DeGroot, Sr., developed an allergy to flour.
“Baker’s disease,” as Tony’s doctor’s called it, closed up Tony’s lungs when he worked around airborne flour particles. The disease was fatal, not to Tony’s life, but his career as a full-time baker.
His doctors recommended he relocate to the southern California coast to see if the condition would improve. He did and began baking again, but the condition soon returned.
He moved inland to California’s Central Valley and rented a dairy facility. One year later, in 1966, he purchased his own 100 acres, built a new barn and expanded to 400 cows. Now his operation milks 4,500 cows and raises all of its own youngstock.
DeGroot is most proud that the dairy today is family-run. His grandson, Jason DeGroot, is the family’s third generation to join the operation full-time.
“I am very fortunate in what we were able to accomplish out here,” Tony says.
Tony will share with World Ag Expo dairy seminar attendees, on Feb. 14, three of his dairy’s successful innovations. One of the three is as old as the dairy itself, the second brand-new and the third idea was developed halfway in between.
When Tony first started cultivating his dairy’s land, or the “ranch” as he now calls it, he planted sugar beets in the alkaline soil. He had seen farmers in the Netherlands plant this crop first into fields reclaimed from the sea.
“Sugar beets grow really well in alkali dirt. They really help in pulling out the salts,” Tony says.
Ever since then, the dairy plants a few hundred acres each year into the crop, despite the fact that over the years local beet processors shut down and selling them off-farm is no longer an option. For years now, DeGroot Dairy harvests the beets simultaneously with its corn silage and incorporates the two feedstuffs into its drive-over silage piles.
“For us, beets make a great rotation crop,” says Tony’s son, Tony DeGroot, Jr., who oversees the dairy’s cropwork.
New microbial protein feeding
About two years ago, Tony, Sr., sat in a room in Lexington, Kentucky, with several other large-herd California dairy producers and heard Alltech describe its idea for a new feeding technique.
The company proposed feeding large quantities of microbial protein, amino acids that would usually be generated from fermenting feed in the rumen, directly in a TMR.
The idea was that some of the protein wouldn’t survive the rumen, but some of it would, landing in the lower gut and being available for milk protein synthesis.
“We’ve been feeding three-fourths of a pound of it,” says the dairy’s nutritionist, Randy Bowen. “A third of the microbial protein ends up in the lower gut. That’s allowed us to feed a lower-protein diet. It’s been successful. It’s a unique idea; it’s never been done.”
Bowen says the technique can be economical based on the alternative: the cost of soybean meal or canola.
“These are the kinds of ideas we are going to need to have to increase efficiencies beyond just buying cheap commodities,” Bowen says.
Unique parlor milking system
About 25 years ago, Tony, Sr., wasn’t happy with his parlor’s operation and began to look for alternative milking systems.
With consultation from others, he created his own system, which features a lower-pressure vacuum, a unique milking cup liner and two pulsators per milking unit, instead of the industry standard one per unit. The innovation currently operates in all of Tony’s parlors, including the newest 45-stall parallel parlor.
The system’s vacuum runs at 10.5" Hg and functions in tandem with each unit’s two pulsators, so that at any one time three of the four attached milking cups are pulling on the udder’s teats. This three-teat milking method Tony says mimics the natural sucking of nursing calves.
“It’s one very unique thing that we have,” Tony, Sr., says.
Double the milk
DeGroot proudly displays a Dairy Herd Improvement certificate he received when he first started dairying and his most recent one from last year.
The two documents show DeGroot Dairies has doubled milk and milk solids production from 13,277 pounds of milk and 463 pounds of butterfat per cow in 1967 to 27,399 pounds of milk and 980 pounds of butterfat in 2011.
“We have to find all kinds of methods to get more milk out of cows,” DeGroot says.
“We have already doubled the amount of milk we get out of our cows. Are we going to be able to do that again? I kind of doubt it.
We’ve got to have new research and really get into new innovations. We have to get more out of the pounds of grain and forage we’re feeding, especially corn silage.” PD
Click here to view the 2012 World Ag Expo Virtual Farm Tour of Tony DeGroot’s Dairy.
TOP RIGHT: Three generations of the DeGroot Dairy management team – Jason (left), Tony, Sr. (center), Tony, Jr. (right). Photo by Ray Merritt.