FREEPORT, Ill. — The bedding system for the free-stall barn at Scheidairy Farm has been changed over the years to find the best option for the Holstein herd.
“We built this facility in 2001, and we entered the facility with 250 cows,” said Doug Scheider, who is co-owner of the operation along with his wife, Trish, and their son, Doug. “Our goal was to provide growth opportunities and increase cow comfort.”
The new facility replaced a barn with hard mats and sawdust bedding.
“The free-stalls were narrow, and the cows liked to spend more time out of the barn than in the barn,” Scheider explained during the Dairy Technology Showcase, sponsored by the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association. “We put softer mats with sawdust in this barn and the stalls are bigger.”
However, the cows developed hock issues with the sawdust, so the dairymen decided to install a methane digester that produced manure solids and electricity.
“The hock lesions disappeared, and things were going real well, but over a period of time our milk quality started to deteriorate,” Scheider said. “We did all kinds of things, but we couldn’t get the solids to work on this farm.”
In 2009, the dairymen converted the barn to sand bedding.
“We put in a mechanical separation system that works flawlessly on a farm in Wisconsin, but we could not get it to work here,” Scheider said.
“We switched to McLanahan equipment, and now we are recovering almost all the sand,” Scheider said. “We are able to drag line and pump our manure 4.5 miles away from here and still use sand as bedding.”
Although reclaiming sand is dirty and messy, he said, “the cows kept telling us it was the right decision because they blew right through the goals we set for them.”
The dairymen saw milk production increase and the milk quality improved at the same time.
“The number of treated mastitis cases dropped by 75 percent,” Scheider added. “Not only has the production increased, but the components increased, too, because the cows are a lot more comfortable.”
Today the dairymen are milking 638 cows, and Scheider said he would like that number to reach 650. In addition to the family members, 20 full- and part-time employees work there.
Cows are milked in a double 12 parlor, and there is room for expansion to a double 20. Two people are involved with each eight-hour milking shift.
“In addition to milking, they also get the cows and scrape the alleys in the barn,” Scheider said.
“We direct load milk, and we thought it would be more flexible in the future,” he said. “But we found out that even though we’re blessed with a lot of places to sell milk, not everybody is equipped to take a direct load of milk, which was surprising to me.”
The milk goes through a chiller before going into the tanker.
Changes also have been made on the feed portion.
“Initially, we planted all the corn and harvested all the forages, and now we do very little of either of these,” Scheider said. “We decided other people could invest in the equipment, we could benefit from the latest technology and that lets us concentrate more on the cows.”
Feed is stored on a 150-by-350-foot asphalt pad, which was installed 13 years ago.
“The corn silage has been on a pile since we’ve been here,” Scheider said. “We like the piles because we can pack both ways, all ways, any ways and the piles have a lot of versatility.”
Haylage previously was put in bags, but now the Scheiders also make haylage piles.
“Piles are much more consistent, but it takes a lot of area,” he added.
The cows are fed a 54-pound TMR ration that includes corn silage, haylage, corn, gluten, cottonseed, protein mix and a whey product from Grande Cheese, which is where the dairymen market their milk.
“They make specialty cheeses, so the whey product has a little higher sugar content,” Scheider noted.
Fans and sprinklers in the free-stall barn are run on a timer, and the barn also is equipped with long-day lighting.
“The red lights come on at night to provide light for people working with the cows, yet the cows don’t recognize it as daylight,” Scheider said.
In the special needs barn, the pre-fresh cows are on the south side of the barn, and the post-fresh cows are on the north side.
“These two pens should not be overcrowded, and bunk space is critical,” Scheider stressed. “It’s not the number of stalls — it’s the length of the feed curb that makes the difference.”
The night milkers also check the pre-fresh pen every 30 minutes.
“We have a time clock, and when they check the pen, they slide a card in the time clock,” Scheider said. “We know who checked, when they checked and they can also write comments.”
Currently, the methane digester at the farm is not producing electricity.
“We stopped because of the economics — it cost us more to generate electricity than the return from it,” Scheider said.
“The utility company charges us a demand fee, which is about 40 percent of our normal bill whether we use any electricity or not,” he explained. “So that takes economics completely out of the picture.”
However, the dairymen continue to use the digester.
“One of our closest neighbors, which live 100 feet from where the manure gets spread on the field, says the manure is less odorless than prior to having it run through the digester,” Scheider said. “So we’re still getting the benefit of using the digester but we’re not generating electricity.”
In the future, it may be advantageous to run the engine of the digester again to either generate electricity or create hot water by just putting a boiler in, he said.