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Investing in longevity: Ohio dairy builds second facility for mature cows

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 October 2018
Lambert VanderMade

There is a lot of talk about the longevity of cows, but Ohio dairy producer Lambert VanderMade thought it was important enough to create a second setup just for older cows.

“Milking older cows makes a lot of sense,” VanderMade says. In 2014 the VanderMade family built a complete housing and milking setup on a second farm site with larger, mature cows in mind.



Cows are moved to FreshMade Dairy, a VanderMade Family Farm, when they are 4 years old.

Before making the decision to build the second operation, VanderMade put a lot of thought into it.

“One of the things we noticed was the bigger, more mature cows didn’t lie down as much as they should,” he says.

alley flush system

The newer facility was built just around the needs of the older cows. They have more room to lie down, eat and drink. In fact, these older cows have twice the square footage for stalls, bunk and water space compared to their other facility.


VanderMade says they wanted the cows to be in a low-stress environment and never have to look for a place to eat, drink or lie down.

The idea was to create an environment specifically for the comfort, health and longevity of the older cows.

“We want our cows to live a long, happy life,” VanderMade says. He adds they now feel their older cows are producing to their full genetic potential. Some may have considered designing a barn just for older cows to be a gamble, but VanderMade says the facility has paid huge dividends. “This has added one year of life to the entire herd,” he says.

They are currently milking cows that are 12 to 13 years old.

VanderMade Dairy feed storage

The first- and second-lactation cows housed at the original farm and the older cows at the new farm are fed the exact same feed, which is all stored and mixed at the same site. The younger cows have a rolling herd average of 28,500 pounds, and the mature cows are averaging 34,000 pounds of milk annually.


“It is amazing what these cows can do,” VanderMade says.

The cattle at both sites are fed a total mixed ration that includes corn silage, haylage and snaplage grown on 1,950 acres. VanderMade says they grow about two-thirds of their own forage, and the remainder is grown by neighbors by agreement.

FreshMade Farm is very automated. The curtains and fans are controlled by a weather station mounted to the roof; alleys are flushed five times a day; and they have a robotic feed pusher. The farm features a double-10 parlor, and everything was designed for labor efficiency.

FreshMade Dairy parlor

Lambert VanderMade and his parents moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands when he was 18 years old. VanderMade Dairy was established in 2000 near Sherwood, Ohio, and was originally built for 600 cows with a double-20 parlor.

With the addition of the second farm in 2014 just two miles down the road, they now milk 2,100 cows, of which 1,500 are at VanderMade and 600 are at the FreshMade location.

“I truly enjoy watching cows do well,” VanderMade says.

Lambert farms with his wife, Tina, their two sons, and his parents, Bert and Corrie. Expanding their operation and making constant updates is something they are doing for the next generation.

They have a hardworking, dedicated team of 26 employees in addition to family. They also host international interns.

The VanderMades are currently building a new cross-ventilated robotics barn at the original farm. This facility will hold 10 robots and is designed specifically for high-producing cows in their first and second lactation. VanderMade is using genomics and farm records to sort which cows will be in that facility. They hope to have that project done by March 2019.

They have used genomic testing since 2013, and they breed for longevity along with fat and protein. They use sexed semen on the top 20 percent of their herd. Lower production cows are bred to beef bulls. Their heifer calves are custom raised off-farm.

VanderMade family

A few years ago, the VanderMade family became part owners in Arps Dairy Inc., a local creamery. All of the milk processed there comes from a 30-mile radius of the plant in northwest Ohio. They bottle milk and cream products, as well as offer cottage cheese, spreads, butter and sour cream. The family enjoys this and other community outreach in their area.

“Arps has been around for 80 years. It’s a local brand that offers a connection to where the food comes from. Being part of Arps has been really rewarding that way,” VanderMade says. “We’re able to meet people and hear how they like local products and appreciate the transparency of what goes into homegrown food. We had a desire to get closer to the consumer and thought this was a great way to do so.”  end mark

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based in northeast Iowa.

PHOTO 1: Lambert VanderMade, owner of VanderMade Dairy and FreshMade Dairy, says, “Our farms, our mission is to care for cows, the environment and our community.”

PHOTO 2: The alley flush system at FreshMade Dairy flushes five times a day for cleaner cows and better hoof health.

PHOTO 3: Rations for both VanderMade Dairy and FreshMade Dairy are mixed in an indoor facility to help reduce shrinkage and loss due to the elements.

PHOTO 4: Cows are milked in a parallel double-10 parlor three times a day at FreshMade Dairy, a 600-cow dairy.

PHOTO 5: Lambert VanderMade’s parents relocated the family dairy from the Netherlands to Ohio to support their family’s dream of dairy farming. Now, Lambert and his wife, Tina, are raising the next generation on the farm. Pictured in the back, left to right: Tina, Lambert, Corrie and Bert. Pictured in the front, left to right: Landric and Boden. Photos courtesy of Purina Animal Nutrition.