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MVP Dairy: Built for a sustainable future

Progressive Dairy Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 19 July 2021
Clay Mccarty

From a green field site only a few years ago, to a forward-thinking facility today, every detail of MVP Dairy in Celina, Ohio, is centered on fostering both cows and people to reach their full potential for long-term, sustainable success.

Finding the right site

McCarty Family Farms LLC, based out of Rexford, Kansas, was already operating multiple dairies in the West when they had the opportunity to expand upon their existing relationship with Danone North America and help supply their largest yogurt plant in Minster, Ohio. This proposition led them to the Buckeye State, where they found a viable partner in VanTilburg Farms, a diversified farming and cropping enterprise. Together, they formed the McCarty-VanTilburg Partnership (MVP Dairy LLC) and purchased a green field site adjacent to VanTilburg farmland and only 20 miles from the plant.

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Clay McCarty, one of the four McCarty brothers, recalls the development of MVP Dairy. “Due to size and proximity to Danone, we knew we needed a facility that was beyond reproach from an environmental standpoint and an image standpoint,” he says.

The 80-acre tract of land became the blank canvas to construct a facility that hit all their marks.

A facility for the future

Coming from the dry lots and four-row barns of the West, the McCartys recognized this Ohio facility would require a different style to provide a consistent environment for the cows. General Manager Brock Peters, who relocated from Kansas to Ohio to oversee the development and operations of MVP Dairy, had his boots on the ground from day one, tending to the details that would set this dairy apart.

Brock Peters

“We wanted to build this for cow comfort first and people efficiency second, so cows can express their genetic potential, eat, drink, lay down and make milk,” Peters says. “We’re not handcuffing the cow.”

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With the advising of Kansas State University’s Dr. Joe Harner, they settled on a layout that effectively optimized the footprint for a 4,400-cow setup: a series of six identical hybrid-ventilated, six-row barns with inverted feed lanes, leading up to a milking center with an 80-stall rotary parlor.

Inverted six-row barns

While the concept of an inverted six-row barn was new, it’s one they have come to embrace. “What’s novel about an inverted six-row barn is feeding everything on the outside, and cows are head-to-head in the middle,” McCarty explains.

Peters is pleased with the perimeter feeding design. “Essentially, the feed wagon can go up to one end of the barn, drop feed, and turn around to the other side of the barn, and go back up the other side and drop feed.”

Ventilation

The six-row, head-to-head pen layout concentrates a 5- to 7-mile-per-hour air speed right over the cows, which is exactly where Peters wants it to be in order to mitigate heat stress and provide a consistent barn environment.

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fans over cow beds

“There are 30 fans over the beds of the cows in each of the six barns, pushing air and cooling cows, and then 26 exhaust fans at the end of each barn for air exchange,” Peters says. The nearly 400 fans throughout the facility never fully shut down; however, automated controllers adjust air speed in relation to temperature and humidity. Likewise, he operates the on-demand soaker system with a control panel accessible through his cell phone to create evaporative cooling cycles that adjust in duration based on the conditions.

Adjusting the dairy's on-demand soaker system

With the barn design and ventilation system, three of the biggest challenges Peters faced while managing dairies in Kansas are nonissues in Ohio.

“We have zero bunching, zero flies and zero birds,” he says. The air speed from the fans deters pests, and there are only four overhead doors to enter the barns, and each barn also has bird screens along curtain air inlets.

Pens

Cows are grouped to maximize their potential, with several groups for first-lactation cows, a fresh pen, high pens and a late-lactation pen. Cows comfortably lay on reclaimed sand in 16-foot head-to-head stalls, and a flush system washes the alleyways every four hours. Long-day lighting with high-bay LED lights and polycarbonate panel side walls keep the barns bright and pleasant.

Of the six barns, one is dedicated to dry and close-up dry cows. These groups share an alleyway to keep pen movements simple. Pens are walked twice each hour, and cows are moved to an individual box stall at the first signs of calving. Hardly a sound is heard, as only the dry cow pens have headlocks.

Milking parlor

The facility carries out comfort from the pens all the way to the parlor, with fans and sprinklers in the holding pen. Rubber matting alleviates the stress of standing in both the holding pen as well as on the rotary platform.

With just three people milking, one cow pusher and a parlor manager, they are moving 540 cows through the parlor each hour. The recent addition of a teat spray robot is proving a wise investment. “It’s almost 99 to 100 percent effective,” Peters says. “Somatic cell count is unchanged, and we’ve been able to save a few gallons of dip over what we were doing before.”

Tech-savvy management

For Peters, the adoption of technology throughout MVP Dairy has changed the way he does his job, as well as the responsibilities of the 38 employees he oversees.

“I can do more with my smartphone than actually being in front of the equipment to troubleshoot,” Peters says. “Whether it’s a combination of my camera system, my ventilation system or my parlor system, even if I’m not at the farm, I can still tell what’s going on.”

A task like sorting cows is now as simple as entering commands into the computer. “We’ve made this facility so the cows come to the people,” Peters says. “The sort gates do all the hard work, and then we just wand the cows with the RFID reader, set some gates and off they go,” he adds.

On the herd health and heat detection side, activity monitors are the first line of defense, alerting workers to direct their attention to the cows that may need it. “The technology piece is not just changing how you chalk cows and pick cows for breeding. It’s a more in-depth process to look at our computer system,” Peters notes. “We are tweaking the filters to catch a few more cows that we might be missing.”

While a bit of tech savvy is required to handle various software programs at the dairy, ultimately, cow sense is the number one criteria for team members.

“We still prefer cows first, tech second,” Peters says.

McCarty adds, “An overall appreciation for what that animal is doing and capable of in a day – we always want that for a trait in our people. At the end of the day, it starts and stops with the cow.”

The Dairy Learning Center

In addition to creating a sustainable future for cows and people, the community is another pillar of MVP Dairy’s core values. That’s why they open their doors to educate the public with a two-story, 15,000-square-foot learning center. With virtual reality, digital displays, and walk-out over the rotary parlor and Danone yogurt to top off the tour, the educational center is poised to provide an interactive learning experience for school children, community groups and travelers coming off the highway.

Raising the bar

In McCarty’s eyes, MVP Dairy sets the standard. “This facility has given Brock so much control over the factors that really can have a massive impact on predictability,” he says.

Floating between 100 and 102 pounds of milk per cow, the controlled environment is the foundation upon which excellent feed, genetics and management can thrive.

“When I look at our network of dairies, MVP is the most efficient from a labor standpoint, hands down,” he says.

In fact, the Ohio satellite is the model from which McCarty’s standard is set. “We built a predictable 100-pound-per-cow facility here [in Ohio]. Our expectations for a facility going forward will be 110 pounds of milk, as genetics and forages continue to improve. We have to think about where things are going to be in 10 years,” McCarty says.

He concludes, “I’ve been in this industry a long time, and the way the dairy world is evolving, we have to be competitive and friendly – with the environment, the consumer and the processor.”

With MVP Dairy as the example, McCarty stands firm on the importance of sustainable dairying as part of the blueprint that will carry McCarty Family Farms into the future.  end mark

PHOTO 1: MVP Dairy LLC is one of several dairies owned by Clay McCarty and his brothers Mike, Dave and Ken. This Celina, Ohio, dairy is a partnership between McCarty Family Farms and VanTilburg Farms.

PHOTO 2: MVP Dairy General Manager Brock Peters relocated from Kansas to oversee the construction and startup of the facility. His day-to-day role involves overseeing 38 employees and using technology as a management tool.

PHOTO 3: Thirty fans over cow beds in each of MVP Dairy’s six barns push air and cool cows. At the ends of the barns, there are 26 exhaust fans to exchange the air.

PHOTO 4: From his cellphone, Brock Peters can mitigate heat stress by adjusting the dairy’s on-demand soaker system to create evaporative cooling cycles. Photos by Joni Bollenbacher.

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