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World-class production at Perkins Twin Creek Farm

Erica Louder for Progressive Dairyman Published on 07 February 2017
Perkins Twin Creek Farm in Indiana

Dairy cows and athletes have more in common than one might expect. Legendary National Football League coach Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we catch excellence.”

Well, excellence is definitely what Todd Perkins and his family are chasing on their dairy – Perkins Twin Creek Farm. As a dairyman and a father of a collegiate athlete, the comparison of animals and athletes is not a hard one for him to make.

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When Minor Perkins, Perkins’ great-grandfather, first began farming in Wolcotoville, Indiana, in the early 1900s, having cows that produced 100 pounds of milk was not even conceivable.

A hundred years later, the dairy does just that. The dairy has grown to 475 Holstein cows and 2,400 acres. Today, Todd, his brothers, Kirk and Rod, and their father, Jim, run the operation.

Perkins says his goals for the dairy are pretty simple. He wants healthy animals and maximum production – two things that are pretty symbiotic. Last year, milk production at the dairy reached a 99.5-pound average, and some cows were peaking at 138 pounds of milk per day.

Like an athlete, these cows were performing at their peak because they were in the very best shape.

Perkins says, “The thing I like is that everybody thinks you push your cows to get that kind of milk, but that is when we always have the fewest problems. That’s when everything just clicks. The hoof trimmer would come and say he had never seen feet look so good.

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Feed is important at Twin Creek Farms

If you take care of the cows and keep them comfortable and get them on a good diet, then you can make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a train wreck for the cow’s sake to get that kind of milk. Quite the opposite is actually true.”

It is far from a train wreck for the cows at the Perkinses’ operation. While Todd admits that the dairy is not without problems, he has found the key to success is in feed, both for the milk cows and the youngstock.

Forage production

Perkins says the milk cow ration is nothing particularly fancy, and he credits long-time nutritionist Stacy Nichols with getting the production where it is. “The ration is one-third silage, two-thirds haylage, some hay and high-moisture corn we put up. About the only thing we buy are the protein and the mineral mix,” Perkins says.

Growing corn on Perkins farmWhile growing your own feed brings some advantages, it is not without problems. Perkins says, “Making forage is always a challenge weather-wise. We get a lot of rain here. We have a narrow window to make a lot of haylage and to make it right.”

The operation gets its name from the “twin” creeks that run parallel through the farm, and this location bodes well for feed production. Perkins says, “We sit on some pretty good ground for Indiana, but we also have some muck soils, about 30 percent organic matter. It is pretty hard to farm, but it raises good crops.”

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Calf raising

Part of milking world-class cows comes by raising healthy calves. Like milk production, the key to calf raising comes in the feed. Last year, the Perkinses installed an automatic computer feeder for their calves. Under this system, the calves can drink as many as seven meals a day and up to 9 liters of milk replacer.

Before, the calves were only getting 4 to 5 liters through twice-a-day feeding, and all that milk at once was causing gut issues in the calves. They thought about adding a third feeding, but like many things on a dairy, it was labor-prohibitive.

Perkins twin Creek Farm has world class cows

With the new set-up, the results speak for themselves. Perkins says, “We are getting tremendous growth in the first 60 days. It is incredible. While we have not freshened any from the feeder yet, the first batch is in the breeding pen, and they look like a different animal.”

When the system was purchased, they were told to expect another ton of milk out of a heifer in her first lactation, and Perkins says, “I am anxious to see that, but at the end of the day, it is not so much about pounds but proper growth.”

The automatic feeding system has not just helped with calf growth; it has drastically cut down on the number of sick calves treated. Consistency in the milk seems to be the key. “The smaller portions are helping calves get the best use out of the milk.

The milk is so consistent; the water and powder are mixed the same every time. When people were doing it, it might be a little richer or a little cooler. I think the consistency has done away with the clostridium infections we had.”

Feeding protocols and good calves are only part of the game, and like any good athlete (and dairyman), success can be a mental battle. Despite poor milk prices, Perkins sees real optimism in the industry. “People are always going to eat.

My kids can get a job in town and maybe make a lot more money, but there is nothing better than what we do. Guys are determined to make it. Dairymen are a unique breed; there is always something to be positive about.”

On Perkins Twin Creek Farm, it is not just the cows that are world-class.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Perkins Twin Creek Farm in Indiana had a 99.5-pounds-per-cow milk production average in 2016.

PHOTO 2 - 4: Perkins Twin Creek Farm milks 475 Holstein cows and farms 2,400 acres near Wolcotoville, Indiana. Photos by Mike Dixon. 

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho

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