What have we learned from this year’s drought?

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Precisely at noon on Friday, Sept. 7, it began raining in Linn, Kan.

It was noteworthy, since rain has been a rare event in north central Kansas — and much of the rest of the country — this year. At the American Legion hall in Linn, they were caught off guard enough that an American flag was left hanging outdoors for at least 50 minutes of fairly heavy rainfall.

Three miles to the north, at Linn Willow Creek Dairy, manager Lee Holtmeier was thankful, calling any rain a blessing.

But Linn Willow Creek Dairy has had to make major adjustments due to the ongoing drought. The facility, with 1,378 cows in the milking herd, has to buy all of its feed from outside suppliers. It contracts with area farmers for corn silage — usually 800 acres’ worth. Usually, the farm can count on 14,400 tons from those 800 acres, but this year it will be closer to 9,000 tons.

The farm is making the necessary adjustments. And, longer-term, those adjustments will help the farm be profitable once milk prices and feed prices reach a more favorable balance.

Lessons learned

Besides ration adjustments, the managers at Linn Willow Creek Dairy have been doing all they can to preserve the corn silage they have on hand.

“We put an extra tractor on (when packing the corn silage into a bunker silo) to get it packed better,” Holtmeier says.

And, the dairy uses an extra-strength plastic to cover the silo, thus preventing tearing from raccoons, rodents and other pests.

The whole idea is to prevent spoilage and preserve the corn silage. “These are the things we can control,” Holtmeier says.

Meanwhile, at Nu Dream Dairy, a 60-cow operation in Harrisville, Mich., Katie Dellar and her husband were feeling pretty good about their feed situation this spring, but because of the drought they will only have enough corn for silage. And, it won’t be the quality they are used to seeing — and no corn for shelling.

“This means we now have to buy shell corn, which is scarcer than usual and getting to be very costly,” Katie Dellar pointed out recently on the “Day on the Farm” blog site.

Rethinking things

“What this all means is we have to start to get creative,” she says.

“We have been securing and finding alternative feeds for our cows. One thing we have tried with great success in the past is potatoes. The starch in potatoes can replace some of the starch in shell corn, and costs considerably less,” she said. Other alternative feeds include sorghum and oats.

Some producers are doing a better job of predicting their future feed needs, points out Ken Bolton, dairy agent for the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability.

“Some dairy managers are now becoming familiar with many more risk-management options for milk and feedstuffs,” he says.

“Many producers are looking at controlling more land, making it more productive and purchasing less feed,” he adds. “Added crop diversification may also be occurring.”

And, it helps to keep life in perspective.

“My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I was happy and as long as I gave it everything I have. I’m still happy, and I’m still giving dairy farming my all — for my family and for all those who depend on us,” Katie Dellar says.



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Bob Milligan    
St. Paul MN  |  December, 12, 2012 at 07:11 AM

Great article! The most noteworthy quote is the one about being more creative. The only certainty in the future is that there will be continuing and increasing uncertainty. I call it turbulence. Creativity, a greater focus on strategic leadership and viewing change as opportunity will be the keys to thriving in turbulent times.


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