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Shiloh Dairy has comfortable, happy cows

Andrea Bloom Published on 03 February 2010

At Shiloh Dairy LLC in Brillion, Wisconsin, the philosophy is simple: build better cows, not more cows.

Gordon and Cathy Speirs currently milk 1,350 cows, have 150 dry cows and raise 1,500 youngstock. And they plan on keeping it that way.

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All of Speirs’ animals are raised onsite. Two freestall barns with seven milking pens and one dry pen house all of the cows. The operation also includes four heifer barns that each hold 200 heifers and an impressive calf paddock area. Cathy has begun to register all of the animals on her farm and plans to eventually have a 100 percent registered herd. The farm is working to improve its genetics and may begin marketing high-quality dairy animals down the road.

When asked about crossbreeding, Cathy says, “I’m a die-hard purist.”

With a mostly Holstein herd, Cathy only crossbreeds the animals when she has challenges with getting the animals bred. In that case, she’ll cross them with Brown Swiss cattle. The offspring will continue to be bred to Brown Swiss until they get back to a full Brown Swiss cow.

As the Speirs work with their animals, it’s clear the importance Shiloh Dairy places on cow comfort and health. Cathy even knows many of her cows by name and is sure to say “good morning” to the girls when she passes by a pen.

Cathy also places high priority on raising healthy calves. Originally, the Speirs built an open-front shed for the calf pens. However, Cathy was dissatisfied with the calves’ comfort. They next built a hoop shed for the calves, but Cathy says that barn left her even more disappointed. Gordon then built a closed calf barn and Cathy has been very satisfied with the new facility. The Speirs were quick to put the other facilities to good use. The open-front shed is now used for sick or flush cows. Gordon says the hoop shed makes a great hay barn.

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Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Shiloh Dairy is the sand separator. Almost 100 percent of the bedding is sand. Straw is only used in the maternity and newborn calf pens. Gordon says he spends on average 10 hours each week handling manure. Cows are bedded once a week in the winter and twice a week in the summer. Liquid manure goes to the lagoon, which has a capacity for three million gallons.

Cathy says she was a bit hesitant to go to recycled sand bedding because she likes the somatic cell count to be very low. However, she says she couldn’t tell the difference between new sand and reclaimed sand and has been very satisfied with the results.

The Speirs contract almost all of their crops, which Cathy says makes the most sense for the business. She says neighboring cash croppers have a guaranteed market for their crops. In return, Gordon has input on crop varieties and harvest dates. He also has a place to spread the manure. This allows the operation to focus on the animals and the people caring for them.

Shiloh Dairy has about 24 employees. Cathy works as the manager of all the employees and emphasizes her commitment to cow comfort. With a mostly Hispanic crew, Gordon says his wife has become quite “barn fluent” in Spanish and can easily communicate with the workers. This makes it easy for the Speirs to bring it back to their base philosophy of milking the best cows they can.

Cathy says, “It’s truly about quality, not quantity.” PD

Andrea Bloom works for Vita Plus in Madison, Wisconsin.

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