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Selz-Pralle Dairy does things right

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 February 2018
Scott Pralle and Pam Selz-Pralle with Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918

What does it take for a cow to become a national milk record-holder?

“We get a lot of milk, but I don’t think we are really doing anything special,” Pam Selz-Pralle says.

In fall 2017, Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 completed 365 days with 78,169 pounds, 4.0 3094 fat and 3.1 2393 protein – enough to earn her status as the current world record-holder. When it comes to management, Pam and Scott Pralle of Humbird, Wisconsin, say they are not doing anything “special” – but they certainly are doing things right.

Making cows that make milk

At Selz-Pralle Dairy, generation after generation of meticulous matings has created a herd of cows born to milk. The 450-cow herd averages above an impressive 100 pounds of milk per day (106.7 pounds of fat-corrected milk). On any given day, several cows exceed 150 pounds of milk.

This adds up to some hefty lifetime production records, with 18 cows in the Selz-Pralle herd over 200,000 pounds of milk. Eleven cows have already completed 50,000-pound milk records, and 73 cows have more than 46,000 pounds.

“We don’t push our cows to milk, but we work darn hard at giving them an environment where their genetics can excel,” Selz-Pralle says. “Our goal is to make animal life as stress-free as possible.”

She adds, “We believe every cow on our farm has the genetics to produce 50,000 pounds annually. But milk production is roughly 80 percent environment, so we need to provide a comfortable, stress-free, healthy environment to challenge their genetics.”

However, milk yield is not the sole focus of the breeding program; components rate high on the priority list, too. “Our goal was to produce 110 pounds of milk per cow per day,” she says. “With volume and somatic cell count premiums being lowered and paying all of our hauling costs, we now instead aim for 7 pounds combined fat and protein per cow per day.”

This registered Holstein herd has never lost sight of outstanding type, emphasizing “balance” and dairy strength. “Our goal is a trouble-free cow that milks 150 pounds a day, and you can put a show halter on her and take her to the county fair,” she says. They have achieved that and more with several bred-and-owned, Junior All-American-nominated cows and heifers, proving high producers can compete in the show ring.

Cow comfort is key

Just as genetics have progressed year after year, the environment for the Selz-Pralle herd has also advanced to enable cows to reach their production potential. In 1998, they expanded from 120 cows to 400 cows with a six-row naturally ventilated barn with sand bedding and a double-10 parallel parlor.

They say if they had the chance to do it over, they would have put in a four-row barn instead of a six-row. Bunk space is a limiting factor for high-producing cows, they say.

“We never shy away from investing money on cow comfort. But before spending money on higher genomics, we first need to make sure our environment can capitalize on the genetic investment. We lean toward technologies that will improve our four-star hotel. Why not a five-star? That would take major capitalization to build cross-vent facilities. We’ve penciled it out and are not sure we can get enough additional production to cost-justify the remodeling or new building project,” says Scott Pralle.

Pralle believes sand is important to cow comfort, so much in fact that production is 8 to 9 pounds higher because of the sand. He says, however, not all sand is created equal. One type of sand they used looked great, but high clay content caused it to harden in the winter. They tried sand savers and sand extractors, but he feels the secret to success is washed frac sand refusals. “The cows lie more, and our SCC is down by 150,000. We definitely wouldn’t switch back,” he says.

When it comes to transition cow and calving facilities, they have successfully retrofitted their tiestall barn. Located a half-mile from the main dairy, it includes individual freshening pens, sand-bedded stalls for close-up cows and newborn calf huts.

“The rumination/activity tracking system really exposed our transition cow care,” confesses Pralle. “We thought we were doing a good job because we had high-producing cows. We were naïve to our pre-fresh stocking density and available bunk space. Synchronization programs caused cows to calve in slugs.

Now that we have calvings spread out, it has reduced this overstocking in our pre-fresh pen and ultimately reduced post-fresh metabolic problems. Retained placentas and milk fever cases are now an abnormal occurrence.”

Managing with data and technology

Selz-Pralle Dairy uses a rumination and activity tracking system for monitoring cow health and reproduction. “Being able to track metabolic problems earlier was a real game-changer,” Pralle says. Since adopting the technology, displaced abomasum incidence decreased 80 percent and drug costs by 50 percent.

He says the management adjustments he’s made using rumination data resulted in an 18-month return on investment, not including the activity/heat detection portion. When their herdsman left his position, they didn’t replace him and are instead using the tracking system.

Selz-Pralle Dairy balances their ration for 105 pounds of milk. The current TMR includes 65 pounds of BMR corn silage/shredlage, 25 pounds haylage, 19 pounds protein mix, 9.5 pounds canola meal and 2 pounds soyhulls. Besides tracking refusals and intakes, Pralle uses their rumination monitoring system to be proactive by alerting him to the cows’ response to ration changes such as moisture content and particle size.

Another technology the dairy has embraced is automatic teat scrubbers in the milking parlor. Previously, they had frustration with washing machine repairs and consistent teat sanitation. Since installing two teat scrubbers a year ago, somatic cell counts have stabilized around 125,000 year-round. Mastitis incidence has plummeted by 64 percent. They recorded just 29 cases of mastitis in the past 12 months and have gone as long as 50 days without a single case.

Prevention and consistency

Prevention is the dairy’s mantra. Their 8-year-old national record-holder has never been treated for a single health problem. The Pralles have long believed healthy cows start as healthy calves, and their protocols support good immune systems.

Farms take teamwork, Pam Selz-Pralle asserts, and it’s essential to not just train employees to perform a task. “It’s critical to teach them the reasons why the process or protocol is important. For them to have the same commitment and desire to achieve our goal, we need to articulate and motivate them as to what the goal is.”

Selz-Pralle may not be doing anything special on their farm to achieve success, but they say they are “persnickety.” They say their dogged attention to detail and making sure they and their staff are committed to doing every task correctly is the magic that turns cow comfort, nutrition, health protocols and genetics into high-record cows. They’ve proven that recipe can turn an inconspicuous, problem-free freestall cow with a big appetite into a world record-setter.  end mark

PHOTO: Scott Pralle (right) gives a friendly pat on the head to current world record-holder Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918. He and Pam Selz-Pralle (left) focus on providing a stress-free, comfortable environment to maximize the genetic potential for their high-producing Holsteins. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based in Waterville, Iowa.

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