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How two dairies made it through 500-mile moves

Ashley Abbott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 10 June 2016
cows stress eased while moving to new facility

Last year, when faced with moving our dairy herd from New York to Virginia, I began to look for resources to help me with decisions and ideas regarding the transition.

I discovered during this time that there really isn’t a lot of information out there on this topic. This seems to be something few farmers think about but many will experience at some point during their dairy farming career.

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This can be as simple as moving from one end of the road to the other – or as complex as moving across the country. If your move will be a great distance, it will take a great deal of planning and a great deal of patience while executing the move.

In October of 2015, James and LaVaun Janney moved their herd of 85 milking Holsteins and all youngstock from Staunton, Virginia, to their newly purchased farm near Clarkson, Kentucky, a distance of 506 miles door-to-door.

They moved from a pack barn to a slightly larger but similar barn and to a double-six Surge parlor. Their new farm is on 85 acres, of which about 70 are tillable. Undergoing this move was no small feat, and the Janneys were able to make the move successfully, a lot of which they attribute to extensive planning.

They were lucky in having more than six months from the time they purchased their farm to their intended moving date, which gave them plenty of time to go over the details of planning their transition.

My husband, Robert, and I moved our herd of 40 milking Holsteins and Brown Swiss and 45 youngstock in November of 2015 from New York to Virginia, a distance of roughly 550 miles.

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We moved from a tiestall facility with 50 acres of pasture to a compost pack barn with a double-four parlor and 270 acres, about 120 of which is pasture and roughly 100 tillable.

While we prepared for our move, one thing we did over and over again was adjust our projections. This was a challenge for us because in moving to a completely different farm setup in a different milk market, we had to put a lot of faith into our estimates. I would advise others going through this process to be cautiously optimistic.

We tried to account for a potential loss in production at the beginning due to stress from the move, but then increased production over time due to the positive change in environment. Projections are very situationally specific, which makes the process difficult, but we found it invaluable to create a budget and attempt to leave room for error.

One thing the Janneys found important in their moving process was preparing the cows for a smooth transition. Knowing they would likely be moving in the late fall, after their forages had been chopped and had time to ferment, they tried to avoid breeding cows to calve in that window of time.

They also worked closely with their nutritionist, trying to keep their ration as stable as possible, mitigating change as much as they could. They made it a point to focus more heavily on feeding for health and reproduction, being willing to sacrifice a little production in order to have healthy cows prepared for the transition.

The Janneys also worked with their veterinarian to develop an aggressive vaccination protocol to follow in the months leading up to the move. Immediately prior to their move, the Janneys filled their cows on high-quality, long-stem hay to help fill their rumens for the long trip.

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As with any huge undertaking, there are always challenges arising throughout the process. LaVaun mentioned that one of their biggest ongoing challenges was farming on two separate properties all summer. While their cows were in Virginia, their crops were being put in 500 miles away in Kentucky.

Their family spent many weeks apart, as one was always in Virginia with the herd. They took turns traveling to Kentucky to prepare the barns and house for their move. Moving can also be expensive, and James and LaVaun found it very important to keep costs in check while preparing for their move.

Another challenge faced by many farmers who move to an unknown area is finding reliable resources in the new area, like nutritionists, vets, hoof trimmers and milking equipment dealers. While challenging, it is important to have those resources in place prior to moving, in case of emergencies early upon arrival.

When we moved our herd, we were lucky to have help in making these contacts from other farmers we met in the area.

An extra challenge the Janneys faced was that their new area did not have a strong dairy infrastructure, so resources were even more difficult to track down. As all farmers know, finding the right team of vendors and advisers to work with can make a huge difference in the farm’s success.

For example, one struggle we faced after moving was that the grain and milk replacer we were used to feeding our youngstock were not available in our new area. We had to try a few different grain formulas and milk replacers before we found a new calf-raising protocol that seems to be working well for us.

Finding the right trucking crew to move cows that distance was also important to the Janneys. They were quick to thank their truckers, stating that with five semi-loads of cattle trucked more than 500 miles, there was not a scratch on a single one of them.

Keeping the cattle moving process as calm and stress-free as possible also helps the cattle to smoothly transition to their new home. In the case of the Janneys, they noted that most of their cattle had been moved on trailers at one time or another in the past, so they believe it helped them to be calmer about the experience than many cattle would have been.

When asked what advice they would share with other farmers planning a move, the first thing the Janneys mentioned was: plan, plan, plan. By exercising patience in holding off their move until their feed was ready and the weather was cooler, they gave themselves adequate time to plan and believe that to be the number one reason their move was so successful.

Another piece of advice, they said, is that the comfort of your herd has to be more important than your own for a time. While the move will always be stressful for the humans, it is important to alleviate the stress on the animals. As the Janneys stated, “The cows needed to be able to get off the trailers, eat, drink and rest.” It is the farmer’s job to make sure this can happen.

The new dairy, the somatic cell count has dropped since the move

From my own experience moving our dairy herd about 550 miles, I would advise those considering a move to familiarize themselves as much as possible with the area that they are moving to. Making sure there is a solid milk market in place that is accepting new shippers is of utmost importance and will definitely have an effect on anyone moving dairy farms.

I also found it very helpful to get the house completely ready to live in before the cattle were moved, allowing us to focus on their well-being first and without distraction. We had family come with us to help with the transition, which was extremely useful in our situation, where cows were moving from a tiestall to a parlor for milking.

I would also recommend that a primary and secondary source of feed be found ahead of time in case yields are less than predicted or forage quality is less than expected.

Since our move, our somatic cell count is the lowest it has ever been. We did lose two cows that were ill-prepared for the move, but we haven’t had to cull a single cow since. Perhaps our biggest surprise is that our reproduction has actually been better since our move than previously. We attribute this to the change from a tiestall facility to a bedded pack.

The Janneys also report a positive effect from their move. They were happy their cows held their pregnancies, both short breedings and later-term pregnancies. They have seen their somatic cell count drop at their new location, and their pregnancy rate has stayed steady throughout the transition.

While moving a herd is a quest many would prefer to avoid, both of these herds had successful outcomes.  PD

PHOTO 1: James and LaVaun Janney felt that the cows’ prior experience in loading in and out of trailers helped ease their stress levels when it came time to move them from Virginia to Kentucky.

PHOTO 2: The Janneys have seen their somatic cell count drop at their new barn location. Photos courtesy LaVaun Janney.

Ashley Abbott is a dairy producer and freelance writer from Staunton, Virginia.

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