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Two dairymen share animal welfare focus areas that increase productivity

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty-Person Published on 04 September 2017
David Jauquet and Ken McCarty

Placing a high emphasis on animal welfare doesn’t just make the public happy; for two producers it has yielded great dividends in the form of improved reproduction, increased milk production and streamlined SOPs.

During the Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium June 1-3 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, David Jauquet, owner of Jauquet’s Hillview Dairy LLC, and Ken McCarty, co-owner of McCarty Family Farms, shared how putting an emphasis on animal welfare benefits their dairies.

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David Jauquet
Owner
Jauquet’s Hillview Dairy LLC
Luxemburg, Wisconsin

Jauquet farms with his wife, Stacy, and children Blake and Stella. They started farming at their current location and built their sand-bedded, cross-vent cow barn in 2007. They milk 650 cows and have a little over a 34,000-pound herd average. He says that while they do farm some ground, they hire most of it out, allowing them to focus on the cows.

Every employee starts in the parlor. Jauquet said having employees start as milkers allows him to sort through and find the good guys who are then promoted and moved up the ladder based on their talents and the opportunities available.

As a FARM program certified dairy, Jauquet said, “Animal welfare is of course a slice of the pie. I’m not going to tell you that it’s the only thing I worry about. I have many other things to worry about, but it is something that we definitely communicate to the guys and girls every single day. We talk about it frequently. We have monthly meetings where animal handling and welfare is stressed. It’s an ongoing training process.”

He later continued, “We stopped tail docking in 2013. If you trim the switch down, we found out that the cows stay very clean. We have a parallel parlor, so the workers in the parlor don’t care for tails because they’re in the way, but you just inform them that that’s the way life is and they learn to adjust.”

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Cows are on a fairly standard pre-sync Ovsynch program and receive double prostaglandin shots. What’s unusual, however, is that they milk fresh cows six times, while still maintaining a 41 percent pregnancy rate.

“We give them everything they need to succeed every single day: proper nutrition, a nice place to lie down, water, all of those things,” Jauquet said. “When you’re feeling a little ill and you’re operating at 75 percent, you don’t do your job the best that you can do. So we don’t push our cows, we just let them live their full potential.

“There are many things that go into it, from nutrition to employee training to how the cows are milked. There’s a hundred different things that go into that, so you need to be clicking on all cylinders, so to speak, in my opinion. We’re not perfect by any means. I am not saying that, but I think there are certain things we have dialed in fairly perfectly.”

The added benefit of providing cows with all of the resources they need to perform is that they stay in the milking herd for the long haul instead of being shipped out for beef.

“The new dairy is 10 years old; I have a long history of where I milked cows before that,” Jauquet said. “Before we expanded the home farm, I rented facilities. Therefore, we expanded from the traditional Wisconsin red barn to 600 cows, so we purchased a lot of cows at that time. The oldest cow in the barn is pregnant and ultrasounded with a heifer calf; that will be her 10th calf. We have a turnover rate in the mid-20s, so we sell lots of cows for dairy, which is a nice side income for us. It also lets us get to be an older herd. We use Dairy Comp as well, and when you look at the Dairy Comp graphs, our three-plus lactation cows milk the most.”

Finally, Jauquet makes sure to minimize lameness on the dairy.

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“Lame cows are critical cows,” Jauquet said. “It’s nothing for us to trim 60 or 70 cows, and not have a single wrap or block or anything. How that’s accomplished is sand bedding. It’s miserable when it’s not underneath the cow, but it’s worth it when it is underneath her. A proper footbath protocol is essential as well. We use regular copper sulfate. Six days a week, cows go through a footbath. For foot trimming, every cow gets trimmed twice a year through the chute. It’s no different than how we talk about reproduction or milking procedure, we have a procedure for foot trimming. If she can’t walk, she can’t eat; if she can’t eat, she can’t milk. Keeping good feet underneath her is essential.”

Ken McCarty
Co-owner
McCarty Family Farms
Rexford and Colby, Kansas

McCarty farms with his brothers Mike, Clay and David. They are fourth-generation dairymen who grew up on a 150-cow tiestall operation in Pennsylvania. The family relocated to Kansas in 2000, where they were able to expand and modernize their operations. Today they milk approximately 8,200 cows across four facilities, with a direct supply relationship with Dannon Co.

Animal welfare is a major focus for the brothers, which is why the dairies have been Validus animal welfare certified for six years. Since then, they added Validus audits for environmental care, on-farm security and most recently, worker care.

The dairy has approximately 170 full-time staff. Day one for every new employee is simply training day. They go through a variety of animal welfare and animal handling trainings, review the farm’s employee handbook and read and sign an animal care agreement.

They have three vets who work on the farm on a regular basis. Two are outside vets who visit and assess the farm on a monthly basis and help with employee training where necessary. The third vet works for them full-time. He visits each of the four farm sites on a weekly basis, assesses the data they’re collecting, evaluates if there are bottlenecks, retrains employees where appropriate, then reports back to the brothers. In addition, the vets cover all of the basic correlation trainings, which is part of the worker care standards in the Validus audit.

McCarty said they make sure to maximize cow comfort where they can. For example, this past spring they insulated the shades in their open lots. This was vital to minimizing heat stress in the summer, he said, since those lots house their youngstock and some of their milking and dry cows. However, insulated shades are not the only thing the dairy does to promote animal welfare.

“We do things that may not have a direct impact on the productivity of the animal, but we feel that they bring value in terms of contentment,” McCarty said. “Every pen on our farm with the exception of some young calves have access to grooming brushes. They’re nothing high-tech like the rotating spinning brushes, but just simply street sweeper brushes that we get from the local communities. Tire swings are in our open lots for our cattle to essentially play with. Music in certain parts of our facility to fill it up with ambient noise and what we feel just makes for a happier cow. The biggest impact we see from that is a great deal of buy-in from the consumers that come to our facilities. We give tours to 3,000 to 5,000 people a year, primarily school kids. Having those sort of things on our farms helps reflect our core values of cow care.”

Installing camera systems has perhaps been their biggest change in the past year. They now have about 100 cameras installed across the operation, both for security and to monitor farm personnel. The cameras are most concentrated in areas with high human and animal interaction, like the parlors, maternity areas and hospital pens. The McCartys allow the Praedium Group to access the cameras at random times. They then send the brothers weekly reports listing positive things they’ve noticed and potential deviations from SOPs. McCarty said the cameras also help them find bottlenecks on the farm.

“We noticed in our maternity barn is guys were having a hard time getting cows into chutes to assist with calvings,” McCarty said. “That was not the fault of the employee, not the fault of the cow, it was our fault the way we designed them. Fortunately with a little bit of labor, we were able to redesign and eliminate the vast majority of those negative conflicts. We feel that that program provides huge value in, one, allowing us as we get busier and busier to ensure that the right things are being done on the farms, but on top of that, it’s just a fabulous training tool. To go back with the employees and say, ‘Look, how could we have done this differently?’ I can’t say enough positive things about that.”

Surprisingly, McCarty said their employees didn’t have an issue with adding the cameras. They have had two incidents where employees mistreated animals. He said that in both cases having a video of the incident was helpful.

“We explained that this isn’t a tool to create a ‘gotcha’ moment,” McCarty said. “This is a tool to help us get better. As we’ve undertaken the Validus standards, we’ve seen that for the first 12 to 18 months, it was a constant reminder to our guys that ‘Hey, these are the new laws that we have to live by.’ After a certain point, though, it just becomes your culture. As such, our crews were very receptive to the camera program even in the incidents where we’ve had mistreatment. What we’ve found is that when we take that footage and go back with those specific employees, it’s not a fight. It’s ‘Hey, yeah, I did it,’ so the response has been very good.”

In addition, they use Dairy Comp to collect data on everything, including lameness events, milk production, component levels, health events and everything associated with reproduction. The employee responsible for managing this data collects it on a monthly basis, compiles it and trends it year over year, month over month, week over week.

“We look for any sort of deviation,” McCarty said. “That benefits animal welfare because I can recognize that perhaps I’m having transition cow issues this month. If my ketosis rate goes up above what we view as acceptable levels, then I can address that. It deals more with trying to prevent problems before they happen than addressing them after they occur.”  end mark

Jenna Hurty-Person
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PHOTO: During the Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium June 1-3 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, dairy producers David Jauquet (right), owner of Jauquet’s Hillview Dairy LLC, and Ken McCarty (left), co-owner of McCarty Family Farms, shared how putting an emphasis on animal welfare benefits their dairies. Photo by Jenna Hurty-Person.

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