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0908 PD: ‘Do the basics, keep it simple’

Published on 16 June 2008

Ryan Riezebos finds that simplicity is best and so far it has worked well for him. While keeping his cows comfortable is not always simple, he found a set-up that is both low-maintenance and effective.

“When I first started building the barn, I didn’t know whether I was going to go with manure bedding, water beds or some type of mattress,” says Riezebos, owner of A&L Dairy in Tulare, California. “We looked around and the more I looked at it, by the time I had to buy a bedding wagon and a stall rake and another tractor and have to go through and keep up the stalls, the maintenance was so much more with manure than with the mattress.”

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Riezebos had his cows on an open corral system since he started 15 years ago. Two years ago, he wanted to expand his herd and improve the facilities, so he looked into his options. Manure bedding was dismissed, and the water beds, in his observation, were not being used. The mattresses seemed to be more simple and easier to maintain.

“It was a significant expansion,” Riezebos said. “We had to put a lot more cement in and the cost of the bed, but we looked at it and in the long run, with the other bedding systems, we would have had to buy the equipment and get more help. With this system we are able to maintain the beds with the same help we had before.”

The expansion started with the first half of the barn being completed in December of 2006 and the other half being finished the following spring. Any concerns about cows using the beds were put to rest when the cows immediately settled into the new mats.

So far, the change has also positively affected the somatic cell count (SCC). By decreasing the opportunity for bacteria and infection, his cows now have test at 200,000 or less, a marked improvement from SCC in the 300,000 to 400,000 range they had before. Their hospital numbers are also down because they are able to control mastitis year-round.

Maintaining that level of cleanliness only takes him an hour a day.

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“Every morning, we lock everything up and scrape off all the manure off the beds,” Riezebos explained. “Then we take a shovel and go along the curb so the water has an area to run down [when we flush out the barn]. We throw a little lime on the beds once a week in case there is any bacteria sitting on top.”

Dairying in California also means dealing with high heat and humidity during the summer. Riezebos took that into account with the design of his barn. He had the roof put up higher and left the middle open to encourage better ventilation. The sides are uncovered and extend higher to let in the afternoon breeze. He added a soaker hose above the feeders that kicks on at 75°F to 80°F degrees, cycling through until the temperature goes down.

“They do pretty good in here with the soakers,” Riezebos said. “I don’t have fans in here yet, but I am wired for it. The veterinarians that I have talked to said that the soakers are 80 percent of the cooling and the fans are 20 percent. They said that if you do anything, get the water soakers.”

Riezebos has found that only a few weeks in July are really humid and lack a sufficient breeze. So his herd of 550 milking cows are happy and cool, giving an extra 7 or 8 pounds of milk since his expansion. The new facilities and beds were a significant investment, but they are paying big dividends now. His advice is not to make your job any harder than it already is.

“We try to keep things as simple as possible around here,” Riezebos remarked. “It gets the job done. I mean you can sit there and make a job out of everything and beat it to death, you know. Just do the basics and keep it simple.” PD

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