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Vogel Dairy demonstrates management is key with three bedding types

Progressive Dairy Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 21 September 2019
Vogel family

One dairy. Three barns. Three different types of bedding. Vogel Dairy near Valders, Wisconsin, proves that successfully operating any system comes down to management.

Brothers Guy and Marcus Vogel are partners in the 660-cow dairy, with the next generation, Marcus’s daughter Amanda Linsmeier and Guy’s son Gabe Vogel, transitioning into ownership and management roles on the farm. Having joined together as partners on the dairy in 1993, Guy and Marcus have navigated their way through incremental growth and herd expansion.

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Cow comfort has always been a top priority. In fact, they were milking in a freestall barn in the 1980s when their father converted to sand bedding after reading a magazine article touting its benefits.

“We put a curb on the back of the stalls and filled them with sand,” Marcus recalls. The early adapters quickly noted the cows’ response, yet struggled with the handling aspect. “Sand was good for cows, but it was not good for equipment. We knew right then we were not going to put sand in another barn.”

Later on, in 1996, the Vogels built their a freestall barn, opting for a different bed choice. This time, they installed rubber-filled mattresses. Marcus remembers the day the delivery truck dropped off the rubber filling. “We filled all the mattresses in a weekend, and then the next week, the salesman called and said they were only supposed to fill the mattresses with half of the amount.” Providing that extra cushion, he says, “was probably the best decision we ever made.” 

That said, when the Vogels added a second freestall barn a few years ago, the easy choice was refillable rubber mattresses. “We put 350 pounds of rubber in each stall; you could almost go up to 400 pounds,” Marcus says. “You can’t get by with throwing nothing under the cow and expecting her to lay on it. If you stand in the stall, you’d be amazed at how soft they are.”

Alternative bedding is a byproduct of recycled waste paper, combined with lime-kiln dust, which acts as an agent to dry it out and prevent bacterial growth.

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The Vogels liberally top the mattresses with either chopped straw, alternative bedding or a combination of the two. The alternative bedding is a mixture of by-products from recycled waste paper with lime-kiln dust, which acts as a drying and bacteria-killing agent.

“This system works for us, but it requires a lot of management,” Marcus explains. “We use a lot of straw – about a ton a day – and 800 to 900 pounds of alternative bedding.”

A thick coat of chopped straw is always used for bedding on top of the mattresses in the high-producing pens.

He further notes the stalls are a bit harder to clean with the alternative bedding compared to straw alone, but using more alternative bedding, or the two combined, has been a welcomed option when straw is in short supply. Right now, they prioritize the straw for the high-producing pens, where cows are more likely to leak milk on the twice-a-day milking schedule. The alternative bedding is used for the dry cows, and also currently for the two-year-old groups.

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Marcus is quick to credit the dairy’s drivable bedding dispenser and grooming machine (Bobman) with making it possible to maintain stalls to the highest degree. The unit includes a large hopper bucket that tips all the way down for scooping and loading bedding material. It then distributes the material out its side into the beds as the employee drives it behind the stalls. A sweeper also extends out the side to clean the backs of the stalls. Marcus was directly involved with the Danish company in tweaking the design of the most recent version of this machine.

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Since they started using this piece of equipment, Marcus notes improved efficiency. “At one time, I was bedding all of these stalls with a fork,” he says. “Now, I can bed 100 stalls with this thing full.” 

Further, he observes cow comfort and milk quality improvements. “There are no abrasions on the cows’ feet and legs,” he adds. “We noticed we had less mastitis shortly after we got it.”

For ease of use, the straw is chopped and stored in bags. On a weekly basis, a semitrailer box located adjacent to the freestall barn is filled with the straw so employees can easily drive in to fill the bucket. A lean-to surrounds the trailer to keep the straw dry and protected from wind, water and other elements. The alternative bedding flows through the machine easily as well.

While the straw and alternative bedding are what’s under the majority of the cows at Vogel Dairy, sand still has it’s place. The original 1970s barn on the property, which is used only to house fresh and treated cows, still has sand-bedded stalls. With it’s own milking parlor, this barn gives them the ability to completely separate milk that is not salable.

With three different bedding materials used throughout their dairy, the Vogels are an example of open-minded thinking and a problem-solving approach which together lead to a successful management strategy.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Vogel Dairy near Valders, Wisconsin, is currently operated by two generations of the Vogel family. From left to right are Amanda Linsmeier, Marcus Vogel, Guy Vogel and Gabe Vogel.

PHOTO 2: Alternative bedding is a byproduct of recycled waste paper, combined with lime-kiln dust, which acts as an agent to dry it out and prevent bacterial growth.

PHOTO 3: A thick coat of chopped straw is always used for bedding on top of the mattresses in the high-producing pens.

PHOTO 4: The bedding machine’s bucket lowers to also act as a scoop for easily filling itself with bedding materials. Photos by Peggy Coffeen.

Peggy Coffeen
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