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Get out of ‘Theory Land’ and move to ‘Realville’

Harley Wagenseller for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 July 2018

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), philosopher, scientist and author, once opined: “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”

Many of us have had the privilege of getting a hold of a book that meets the above description, perhaps the Bible or possibly the Merck manual, or a rock solid book such as one of those. How good would those books ever be if you never applied what you learned from them in your own personal life? Most likely you have heard the slogan that so-and-so can “talk the talk” but rarely can “walk the walk.”

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I want to give you some examples of what I mean when I say you need to get out of “Theory Land” and move to “Realville,” as my favorite radio talk show host states. Many years ago in the pages of this fine magazine, I mentioned a leading Southeastern dairy research unit where the manager saw dairy procedures one way and the dairy extension scientist preached a completely different way to the clients in the field. Each one said their way was the correct way and that the other’s was not practical for farms in the area. Workers were at times dumbfounded as these two went round and round about how things should proceed. After all, this teaching institution had a responsibility to do it right and better, and set the example in correct procedures, did they not?

To make the point, the dairy manager insisted that since the cows were on a rinse-wash-rinse cycle on the Rain Bird sprinklers in the holding pen, that after a 10-minute drip dry session, they should come in 12 on each side and have the milking machines immediately put on. However, there was no udder prep, such as dip, strip, wipe, hang in a 90- to 120-second prep cycle for maximum letdown. Instead, what they had was over 60 seconds when machines were on cows with no milk coming out. Without udder prep, they had slow milk-out and other related problems.

The dairy manager’s response was, “Well, they’re clean and dry, aren’t they?” Perhaps he was absent that day in college when proper udder stimulation was explained. He only offered excuses that the milkers were slackers, etc. The real problem was that he was living in La La Land and was not inhabiting Realville. For that and other reasons, he soon no longer worked there.

I liken it to the myth that when exercising, you must exercise to complete physical exhaustion or be unable to walk the next day in order to achieve your fitness goals – the no pain, no gain mentality. As an example, you see a lot of people hurting themselves lifting and flipping heavy tractor tires. When asked why they are flipping these heavy objects, their response is they have no idea other than they saw some pro football trainer tell them that it is good for them. Or maybe if I tell you I have this really cool new fitness program where I take you outside, beat you with a wooden stick, and when you leave, you say, “Wow, I’m incredibly sore.” Then I tell you how awesome your workout was and you should do it again tomorrow. Maybe even bring your family tomorrow to watch this. Obviously, you would say that this is crazy. This is not the place to describe how this goes against physics and anatomy, but there is a point to all of this.

Oftentimes, people in the dairy industry don’t stop to ask why they should do things a certain way. Instead of adopting someone else’s philosophy and inflicting pain on their dairy, they should think about the “why” behind everything they are doing.

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Perhaps you are at a point where you need to bring in something different on your dairy because the next generation is ready to make the leap. A good example may be the pros and cons of different kinds of milking systems. There are limiting factors to any and all of the particular ways of doing that income-collecting habit known as milking.

Let’s for the next few minutes talk about the pros and cons of each milking setup and style. Box stalls and tiestalls are still used on some elite genetic dairies; however, this seems like the 1960s to me, and I understand why you may want to use these methods on your very expensive assets (cows) because they do work well.

Herringbone parlors were probably what a lot of us grew up with. It’s a nice way to milk as long as almost all of your cows are the same size. A limiting factor could be not to get a parlor too long for logistical reasons.

I once toured a farm with a double-50 herringbone. You almost needed binoculars to see cow one from cow 50. There were five people in the pit. We actually timed how long it took to load one side – almost four minutes! Yet they were able to milk 3,000 cows three times a day. With parallel parlors – by turning cows 90 degrees – you can arrange more cows in a smaller space. Be careful, however, that single-file exit space used previously for a retrofit herringbone may not work on a rapid-exit parallel where all you have are 1,700-pound Holsteins. Exiting these cows was a logistical nightmare. I did observe this on another dairy farm tour.

Oftentimes, milking between the back legs speeds up your time attaching and reattaching machines as there are a lot less chances for kickoffs. Rotary parlors are amazing for this fact. Where it seems that in so many parlors you occasionally have to bring cows into the herringbone or parallel by the step-and-fetch-’em action, the thing commented on by everyone is cows enter the merry-go-round on their own 98 percent of the time. The cows almost have a smile on their face like it’s Disney World they are going to. It has been noted that some cows enjoy just going in the slow circle over and over until you force them off!

Robotic milking can be the ticket for some and that the cows set their own schedule and quite often achieve 2.8 or 2.9 times a day in the robot. Pretty good considering some were previously milked three times a day anyway. Also when you talk about the human factor, I recall a few years ago in this fine magazine one dairyman who recounted one of the benefits of robotic milking as “that he never had to pull a drunk robot out of the ditch on a Saturday night.” Bravo for that!

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There are so many hybrids, too numerous to mention. However, this one was a doozy! This dairyman had a building 14 foot long by 10 foot wide, beefed up the floor, put a sloped entrance and exit, ran two cows at a time in, used a two-by-four as headlocks and milked his herd of 20 cows at noon once a day. You can’t escape old-fashioned ingenuity.

The whole point of this article is to help you move out of Theory Land, where some of you exist, to Realville. It was not meant to explore in an exhaustive way every kind of milking establishment. It is to help you understand the differences between theory and reality. Always ask yourself why. Intelligent choices are the key to making meaningful decisions.

You may occasionally venture into La La Land. Realize it’s not a dead-end stop. Theory Land has entries and exits. The more you research any procedure or purchase, you avoid the trap some take when they stop in Theory Land. Be optimistic yet realistic. These are just some of the reasons why you should get out of Theory Land and move to Realville.  end mark

Harley Wagenseller

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