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0708 PD: Chilean dairyman strip-grazes cows on turnips, feeds milk to his calves with automated feeders

Leon Leavitt Published on 25 April 2008

When Heinz Held’s great-grandfather, then age 12, arrived in Chile from Germany in the 1850s he paid a minimal sum for a large tract of heavily forested land.

Perhaps it was because of the unusual shape, which is a half-mile wide by 1.86 miles deep. Gradually over the years his posterity and their families have cleared 300 acres, which now sustain the crops and pasture land for Heinz’s 250-head herd of registered Holsteins.

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Over the years, Heinz has developed a reputation for breeding sound cattle and consequently a stable market for his prime registered bulls. They are now bringing over $2,000 each, whereas a few years ago they sold for $500 each.

“It’s simple; when copper goes up in value the dollar goes down,” Heinz said. “And Chile is a leading world exporter of copper, so as the copper market flows, so does everything else.”

His milking parlor is a side-opening double-5 with a trip-lever grain dump for each stall. Even though not automated it works for Heinz in challenge-feeding the 194 head that are currently being milked.

The 232-stall freestall barn houses his cattle for intermittent periods during the heavy rainy season, June to September. Even though rubber mats are provided, not all cows like them.

While many area dairymen are selling to larger companies, Heinz has contracted with a small (150,000 pounds per day) cheese factory for a fixed price of $20.07 per hundredweight with no bonuses for fat or protein.

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“For other dairymen this may not be beneficial, but for me it’s a little bit of an advantage,” he says.

The year-round, all-pasture system is supplemented by other roughages such as several acres of turnip fields. Typically planted in November, this high-energy source yields 5.5 to 8 ton per acre when grazed in the summer. His current herd average is 26,900 pounds per cow.

To reduce expenses, Heinz shares major pieces of farm equipment with his son, who operates another dairy nearby. Even with a good market and above-average production, expensive fertilizer cuts into the profit margin. Last year, it cost $80 per acre for fertilizer and now it’s even more expensive. Borum is also applied to the soil.

Raising his own calves is an art that Heinz has mastered over time. He has found that being extra liberal in colostrum feeding has paid off. Baby calves are fed 6 quarts of colostrum per day for five days before being fitted with a transponder. They are then moved to the pen for automated feeding.

The milk feeder (whose parts are made in Germany and assembled in Chile) cost $10,000 15 years ago and has been invaluable to Heinz. He loads it up each morning and it does the job, quietly and efficiently, by metering, mixing and dispensing the powdered milk formula in 1-quart increments.

The plan is for each calf to receive 92 pounds of powdered milk in 90 days. As each calf approaches either one of two dispensing nipples, the unit electronically identifies the calf and releases the specified amount required. For the first two weeks, they are allotted 4 quarts per day, and the rate is increased to six quarts per day until 90 days have elapsed.

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If any calf goes off feed or sucks slowly, an electronic “red flag” is noted and a signal sent to a remote computer. This alerts Heinz that a is in need of treatment.

Heinz believes automated milk feeders may be advantageous for U.S. dairymen and calf raisers. He suggests producers shop around and talk to others who are using them before buying. Questions to ask include: Is there a competent service technician available? The cheapest system may not always be the best deal. PD

Leon Leavitt
Publisher Emeritus
Progressive Dairyman

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