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0908 PD: Producers drawn to South Dakota for expansion seminar

Loretta Sorensen Published on 16 June 2008

Dairy farmers from as far away as Latvia gathered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a two-day presentation focused on the elements of establishing or expanding a dairy operation earlier this year.

The presentation was hosted by Five-G Consulting, a Texas firm that specializes in dairy design and waste management concepts.

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Those attending the seminar ranged from a father-son operation near Wayne, Nebraska, to the Latvian Holstein Association, who brought their entire membership to experience the seminar.

“I’m considering expanding my dairy operation,” says Dwaine Junck of Carroll, Nebraska. “I wanted to know what all the options are.”

Uldis Krievars, spokesperson for the Latvian dairymen, said his group is working on plans to expand their existing dairies, if the European Union removes livestock quotas in their country by 2015.

“They’re talking about it,” Krievars says. “It remains to be see if they do it or not, but we want to be ready to move if it does happen.”

Five-G Consulting was formed by Joe Gribble, father to Ted and Don Gribble. Joe’s father combined his construction and dairying skills in Oregon as early as the 1930s, involving his son and grandsons in gaining experience with successful dairy operations.

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“Planning is the most important step in this process,” Don says. “That’s not to say that your initial plans won’t change as you work through the process. But you’ll have a much more satisfactory operation if you’ve thought everything through first.”

Between the group of engineers and designers Five-G has assembled, they offer more than 100 years of experience to dairymen who want to develop the best possible operation. Their customized plans assist with maximizing facility utilization, detailed long-range master planning, feasible waste management systems, efficient animal traffic, cost-effective housing designs, manageable feeding systems and complete site development. The company has assisted with programming and design projects throughout the world with direct construction supervision in Oregon, South Dakota, Louisiana, Utah, North Carolina and Florida.

“We work directly with the dairyman to identify the operation’s specific needs,” Don says. “Whether it’s an existing facility or a new dairy, we provide the planning the project requires.”

While several vendors were featured during and provided speakers for the seminar, Five-G discussed a variety of options for dairymen in terms of the products available to them for their barns and waste management systems.

“We’re not advertising for any one company,” Ted said. “We want to present some alternatives and explain the advantages and disadvantages related to them.”

Among the topics addressed during the seminar were assessing an existing layout and facilities, housing and feeding areas, traffic patterns, milking areas, manure clean-up and management systems, regulations and recommendations for approaching the public, support animals and planning steps. Managing a labor team was also discussed.

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Five-G presented the same seminar to dairymen in Holland shortly after bringing the seminar to Sioux Falls. Ted said the structure of the presentation was essentially the same because dairy basics know no boundaries.

“There is no standard plan for a standard dairy farm,” he says. “We’ve been searching for that for more than 40 years, but we’ve never found a standard dairyman, so we know that each dairy has its own unique characteristics. However, the basics of operating a dairy are the same, no matter where you are. Planning for your individual needs and looking beyond today into the future are the two key elements to designing a successful dairy. You have to consider many elements in order to obtain the facility that works best for you.”

Advancing technology has initiated changes in every industry, and dairy farms are no exception. A flush system is quickly becoming the most favored means of waste management for dairy farmers, a critical element for a successful operation, the Gribbles say.

A desire to see a flush system operating in a dairy recently brought eight board members of the Latvian Holstein Association to the Midwest to tour dairies in the region.

“Our climate is very similar to yours,” Uldis Krievars says. “We know the system would work for us in the summer, but we hoped to see one being used in the winter.”

Krievars, who spent 10 years at the University of Connecticut obtaining a degree, organized his Latvian dairy seven years ago. He and all the members of his group milk registered Holsteins. They do some crossbreeding with the Latvian Brown cow, which is known for flavorful milk but lacks some other desirable dairy cow characteristics. Krievars milks approximately 350 cows. Other members of the group milk between 200 and 400 cows.

“Some of them started with just four or five cows and have built their herd from that,” Krievars said. “For the last couple of years, we have been gathering information about expanding our dairies because the European Union has talked about eliminating our livestock quotas by 2015. We want to look at all our expansion options so that, if they do take away the quota, we’re ready to expand when the time comes.”

The flush system the Latvian dairymen are interested in utilizes pop-up valves or fixed valves that direct water at a flow rate of up to 9,000 gallons per minute (gpm) through barn lanes and alleys. Systems can be designed with either reservoirs or pumps and have proven to provide a labor-efficient and thorough means of cleaning a barn. Waste can be collected and processed in a variety of different ways.

The flush system is operable any time temperatures inside a barn are above freezing. Curtains, insulation, supplemental heat or provision to convert to tractor scraping for short periods of time can all be used to accommodate cold temperatures that would affect the operation of the flush. A properly designed freestall barn will average 10 to 20 degrees higher than outside winter temperatures, which means dairies could use the system when outside temperatures are between 13°F and 23°F degrees.

“There is a flush system being used in Portugal,” Krievars says. “But we hope to find one in America that is operating in a cold climate.”

The Latvians copied North American dairies when they designed their current barns. All of them use freestall barns and much of the same equipment found on American dairies.

“We feed our cows differently because corn is so expensive in Latvia,” Krievars says. “We purchase barley and wheat, and we grind it ourselves. We don’t use commercial feed because that is also very expensive and the dealers are not reliable.”

As the Latvians consider expanding their dairies, they will plan to import much of their equipment from the U.S. because they won’t be able to find some of it in Latvia. The equipment they do find will be much more expensive than what they can import.

“We just formed a co-op, Trikata,” Krievars says. “It’s something Americans have done for a long time, but that kind of thing is just getting started in Latvia. If we don’t work together we are powerless against the larger producers.”

The Latvian dairymen may expand up to as many as 1,800 head, if their government does away with quotas.

“We have made four or five trips to Wisconsin to visit their dairies,” Krievars says. “We are working with a University of Wisconsin professor on dairy equipment. We know we have to be very efficient if we want to be competitive.” PD

Loretta Sorensen for Progressive Dairyman

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