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Indiana dairyman found transition cow success with separate facility

Kimmi Devaney Published on 11 May 2015

Minich family

Luke Minich, a fourth-generation dairy farmer from LaPorte, Indiana, didn’t always plan to return to the family farm. His family sold their dairy cattle, and after graduating from Purdue University, Minich worked as a grain merchandiser and futures broker in Indianapolis.

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In 2009, Minich began thinking about returning to the family farm to row crop. However, the same weekend Luke, his wife, Kim, and their children moved back to the farm, a 250-cow dairy nearby became available. They closed on it three months later and have been milking ever since.

Today, the Minichs operate a 1,000-cow dairy at two locations – a transition facility with dry cows, fresh cows and cull cows at the family farm, and another milking and breeding facility at the dairy they purchased in 2009, which is approximately 15 minutes away.

“We knew when we started the dairy that we would need a better transition facility, and I wish I would have done this sooner,” Luke says. “Herd health, employee morale and overall logistics have all improved.”

When they decided to expand, the logical step was to keep dry cows and fresh cows separate from the rest of the milking herd, Luke says. They started with 250 cows in 2009, were up to 400 by the end of that year, then added 100 cows per year through 2012 and finished 2014 with 1,000 total milking and dry cows.

“It made more sense to invest in a facility that had room to grow,” Luke says. “I can see this working really well for a lot of producers.”

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Calves are born at the transition facility and then sent to the calf raiser within the first week for 60 days. They come back for 30 days for evaluation to determine if they want to keep them in the herd. Then they go to a nearby heifer raiser and return as springers two months before calving. Luke also purchases some springers, and since animals are coming from different locations, biosecurity is important. All incoming animals first come to the transition facility, where they are vaccinated and quarantined for four weeks.

At the end of their lactation, cows are moved to the transition facility where they are dried off, checked for pregnancy and vaccinated. No drugs or antibiotics are stored at the main dairy, so all cows needing treatment of any kind are moved to the transition facility. Protocols are posted on the walls in the vet room at the transition facility, where all pharmaceuticals are stored.

Luke Minich

At 21 days in milk, cows are vaccinated, evaluated, given Lutalyse and moved to the dairy. Any cows that may be lame, sick or not in optimal condition are moved to another pen at the transition facility for continued observation.

Right now, the Minichs are focused on continuing to improve their breeding program. Cows are serviced three times with A.I. after their 55-day voluntary waiting period and then turned out with the bulls. Group sizes were too large to keep enough healthy bulls to rely solely on natural service, and they weren’t getting enough pregnancies, so they started synchronizing to A.I. in September 2014. If cows are not pregnant by 250 days in milk, they become part of the cull group at the transition facility.

They have 13 full-time employees, and most are only at one facility, but a few split their time between the two farms. They have a separate herd manager for each farm, and Luke says this has helped to ensure employees are following protocols and that routines are consistent. The herd manager at the transition facility is also a veterinarian, so his skill set is very useful there.

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“There’s a big advantage in matching employee talent with the needs of the farm,” Luke says. “Keeping the farms separate also helps to specialize labor and increase efficiency.”

To maintain dry matter intake for dry and fresh cows, they work closely with their nutritionist, who custom formulates rations on a monthly basis, tests the TMR and the silage, and also custom blends mineral to match the cows’ needs. Feed bunks are cleaned daily, and feed is pushed up every other hour. To increase feed bunk consistency, they plan to add a cover over all feed alleys at the transition facility. Feed bunks are currently open to the weather, and cows don’t like wet feed or feed that has been snowed on, he says.

Looking ahead, the Minichs plan to continue to grow revenues by 10 to 20 percent each year. They don’t have a goal in mind as far as cow numbers; they instead grow as a function of business and what is economically efficient, Luke says. They plan to build another dry cow barn at the transition facility to separate dry cows from springers and to minimize movement and maximize cow comfort. Eventually, they also want to add another milking facility and have one transition facility, feeding two dairies with 700 aged cows at one dairy, 700 2- and 3-year-old cows at another facility and 700 cows at the transition facility.

Luke and Kim remain optimistic about the future. “The possibilities are endless,” Luke says. “We are excited for the future of the dairy industry. Hard work always wins.” PD

View the slideshow and see more of the Minichs' dairy.

Kimmi Devaney is a livestock specialist with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. She also writes an agricultural blog.

PHOTOS
PHOTO 1: Kim, Anna, Mary, Luke (holding Calvin), William and Katherine Minich pose for a family photo at their transition facility. To the right are their fresh cows, and to the left is the post-21-days-in-milk observation group.

PHOTO 2: Luke Minich reviews protocols for various tasks posted on the wall in the vet room at his transition facility. Photos by Kimmi Devaney.

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