Global connections in the dairy industry and at Alta are always growing. Alta Advantage Consultant, David Hill shares evidence of these connections along with farm highlights from a recent trip with the Alta UK team.
By: David Hill
Alta Advantage Consultant
Day 1- The Journey Begins
After leaving the snow of Pennsylvania, I arrived in Lockerbie, Scotland with overcast skies and in need of some jetlag sleep.
I was planning to meet Billy Campbell, my colleague, driver and trip organizer, who is a DSM for AltaUK, for dinner at the hotel. As I looked around in my grogginess, I saw a familiar face, John Jamison! John and his wife Helen have dined with me many times and it was great to see him. John, of Firth Holsteins, is a nationally rated dairy cattle judge and breeder of Registered Holsteins. He milks about 300 cows.
The ironic part about meeting John is that he had made an inquiry not a month ago, about his 24 year old son Graham coming to work on an American dairy. I had recently confirmed that Graham would work for three months at Advantage Partner and Showcase Host River Breeze Dairy in Chase Mills, NY. River Breeze, owned by Steve and Mary Lou McKnight, milk 1200 cows, and they are great Alta Advantage partners. River Breeze Dairy uses the My Female Index within AltaGPS to sell cows for dairy replacements, culling and for breeding decisions. Anyway, I needed to share that part to let you know I had walked in on Graham’s Going Away to America Party!!! Fate had brought me nearly half way around the world to be at this party!
Day 2 – The Scottish Borders
The Borders is the area in the Southeast of Scotland that shares the border with England. This area is infamous for the historical battles of the past.
Billy Campbell and I headed to Kennetsidehead Farm, owned by Jimmy and son, Sandy Mitchell (view an article about their farm here). I had traveled with Jimmy and Billy within the USA previously. This Alta Advantage partner herd milks nearly 700 cows in their new 50 point rotary parlor. The area from the old parlor is now home for 100 cubicles for low yielders. The newest addition to the farm is a Windmill to provide the main house and office electricity. The windmill has been installed less than a month and already is producing more electric than needed. Sandy also announced that construction on the next shed for 400 cows begins next week. Sandy will participate in the AltaU Dairy Manager School in October.
Sandy is milking terrific daughters of AltaIOTA, AltaROSS,AltaR2 and AltaTOYOTA. Drew Wilson does monthly matings with the current Advantage program at this dairy. The office discussion was about getting what you breed for…Production, Health and Type. It was extremely impressive to see they had printed and read Chrissy Myer’s recent article on “The Proof is in Your Numbers” (see article here). This really dove-tailed with my discussion. Jimmy Mitchell a national leader of the “300 Club” understands that the need to look at daughters to see whether the production, health and type is really there, is merely a validation with genomics.
David Hill (left) with Sandy Mitchell
Our next stop was Kelloe Mains Farms, owned by Robert and Susan McDonald. Their son Robert Jr, is in charge of the dairy. Young Robert has worked in the US at Alta Advantage Partner, Twin Birch Dairy. He has brought DairyComp 305 back and incorporated it at Kelloe Mains. This dairy is milking 500 cows and has moved in to a new shed in the last few months. Robert is remodeling the old cubicles with deep manure solids as bedding.
Their plan is to expand to 1000 cows and build a new rotary parlor. Drew Wilson does the matings for this Advantage herd also. Showing young Robert his own Productive Life (PL) data was very powerful. This is an analysis of the number of events that occur at various levels of Productive Life as predicted by the sires in a herd. The lowest quartile indicates where a large number of metabolic events occur. This is costly to the dairy in time, effort and money, when we only would have put more emphasis on PL in Sire Selection.
Dinner in the evening was with Billy and nearby Advantage Partners, Jim Forrest, Meinfoot Farm, and David Hyslop, Meinside Farm, and his son David. The discussion over a great meal was about how genomics are working, Alta’s vision and how this will impact their business moving ahead.
Day 3 – Dumfries and Galloway
Tuesday dawned for the second day in brilliant sunshine. This is a welcome sight in Scotland with over 36 inches of rain in the last three months. I took credit for the sun all day.
We made a special trip to my friends at Rerrick Park Dairy to see owners Fergus McDowall, his daughter Katrina and Dairy Manager Neil Graham.
They held up the milking of 5 first lactation fresh heifers until we arrived because they were so proud of these AltaR2, AltaCALIBERand AltaROSS daughters. Fergus wants to be the best and is constantly asking about how to be better. I shared the Proof in the Numbers information utilizing the Dairy comp 305 backup. It was impressive to see that the Advantage daughters calving now and leaps and bounds above the previous assembled herd. Rerrick Park uses the best we have at Alta and are poised about how to make better cows faster. We also do a My Female Index within AltaGPSfor them.
Katrina (who interned at Shiloh Dairy in Wisconsin and is a Showcase Prep Crew Alum) will be attending the AltaU Dairy Manager School. Rerrick Park is planning their next shed for 300 cows as well.
Balmangan Farms, owned by Mark Wallace and son Duncan Wallace was the next stop. We visited with Mark and dairyman Ryan, who recently graduated from AltaU and shared a Dairy Comp backup. They are milking 1100 cows at the moment. We received an on-site tour of the initial construction of their new 72 point Boumatic rotary parlor. The basement of the parlor was in place, and the slurry lane was being ditched as we toured. In addition, a new cow shed, a collection area, and a methane digester will be erected soon. The goal of Balmangan is to get to 2000 cows on this sight in the southwest of Scotland. Alta continues to provide semen and support to this iconic dairy.
The final farm visit on a gorgeous day was at Meikle Firthhead in Haugh of Urr, the David Yates and family. David toured New York dairies with Billy Campbell and me in November. This family operation milks about 350 cows. David uses Alta Advantage sires on 95% of his herd commercial herd. He likes to show a bit as well (and everyone needs a hobby!). His 2013 All-Britain 2-year-old is fresh and looks fantastic! David has the best heifers on the farm pregnant to 511AltaMETEOR. In addition, David has installed a robotic feed pusher from Lely. This machine pushes feed up ten times per day and is automatic. This very impressive technology encourages intake. Look for David’s daughter Kirstie in the 2016 Olympics, as she is training for the shot-put.
|Robotic feed pusher at Meikle Firthhead Farm|
Donald Millar, new AltaADR in southern Scotland and Cumbria joined me for dinner. I had the privilege of interviewing Donald during the last Alta Advantage Showcase in Michigan. Donald was full of great questions about Alta and what I do.
By: David Hill
Alta Advantage Consultant