“Whatever we do we always ask if it's good for the cows. We need to make sure that the girls are healthy.”
Betley Farms is a third generation family farm. Jeff’s grandfather started the dairy farm in 1942, and in 1991 Jeff took partly over from his father, Jack. Jeff went to college and worked within other business areas for a while before he decided to go back home and work with his father on the farm.
Jeff and Jenna met after college and when Jeff’s parents wanted more free time Jenna stepped in and quit her off-farm job. She is now taking care of the cows, making sure that they are healthy.
- Milking: 3 times/day
- Milk yield: 91 pounds/ cow/ day
- 3.6% fat, 3.15% protein
- Somatic cell count, SCC: 128.000
- Total bacteria count: 1-2000
The Betleys installed a herringbone rotary in 2006: "It has made work smoother for us and for the cows,” says Jeff.
The cows are housed in sand-bedded free stalls.
Cow comfort is a high priority. When they built a new facility in 2006, it was all about cow comfort. “Whatever we do we always ask if it's good for the cows. We need to make sure that the girls are healthy.”
“We look at the whole picture, from the parlour, cow flow, how the farm is arranged. With the new rotary the turn-time for the cows are 3 hours per day maximum, which gives them more free time for eating, drinking, resting and sleeping – time to do whatever they like without us interfering with them.”
“Cow comfort also includes respect from the employees. They need to be calm and quiet to give the cows a calm and quiet environment to live in.”
They feed the cows TMR. Everything is delivered at the same time, nothing is added to a specific cow.The cows are fed corn salad, with all necessary ingredients. There is an exercise lot, but the cows do not graze.
The Betley's grow their own forage. They grow all corn, but buy all protein, such as soya meal. They also buy most of their grains.
3/4 of the feed is home grown, and feeding cost is $4,50-4.75/ cow/ day.
Crops and forages
They grow wheat, alfalfa and corn, on 19 000 acres. Irrigation is not needed. 80% of the fertilizer they use comes from their waste stream.
They use AfiFarm Herd Management System. Youngstock is 1200, (200 calves/ 1000 heifers) and replacement rate is 25%. The average age of the cows is 5.5 years, and average lactation length is 15 months.
For manure they have three lagoons, which are emptied and collected and spread on the fields during spring and fall. They also use a methane digester to produce power.
There are a lot of environmental regulations to follow, e.g. on how much manure they can spread, which is controlled by the Department of Natural Resources, DNR.
There are 27 people one the payroll. They use certain routines, but not written SOPs, as they rely on the employees teaching each other. “People help people to do the right thing.”
The milking equipment
For service they use Modern Dairy Systems. MDS, with a full maintenance plan. They come in for replacement every 2 weeks and regular maintenance every month.
One major challenge for dairy farmers in the future is all the regulations, for example on how to handle the waste streams. There can also be an opportunity in this, as it can also be used for power.
When it comes to technology, Jeff and Jenna believe that as long as it is good for the girls, it is good.
"We always look at what is best for our cows. It is good if it improves the efficiency- to get more milk per cow."
The Betley's would like to continue expanding the farm, maybe by taking over one more farm.
They have two children, 3 and 5 years, so it is too early to say if they will want to take over the farm. "I won’t make them, but it would of course be nice", says Jeff.
The plans for the closest future is to “find” a new facility for the heifers. It might be located somewhere else, they do not know yet.
"I prefer to call it stewardship instead of sustainability", says Jeff. "We live here, and our children too. We need to do what is best for us and them. This is also to make money of course. If we can keep the cost down we are happy. At the end of the day, we have to make money too.”
"In general I think that a high producing cow leaves a smaller footprint by far, compared to a low producing one. Lower input, higher output. This is also why it is so important with cow comfort and making sure that they cows are well, as they then produce more.”
"It is true that the cows release carbon dioxide, but it is an animal and that’s what they do. If we compare to 1944, they had many more cows and produced much less milk. Now we are doing everything we can to get as much milk as possible out of a fewer cows.”
"The consumers are of course affected by this. We try to educate people. We understand why a high producing cow is better; we need to tell that to others. We invite people to the farm for tours. Usually we have school classes once a week, but also business groups. We go to schools and talk about agriculture, we even brought as tractor to our daughter’s school one day."
"We would like to pass on the same or a better farm to the next generation. We try to see it from the big picture. If we can lay our heads on our pillows at night and sleep well, we can call it sustainable,” says Jenna.