Winter 2008 Traveling Dairy Tour

The Winter Traveling Dairy Tour is an annual event during which students from the New England Land-Grant Universities come together for a week-long tour of dairy farms and related businesses. This year’s tour took place on January 7th–11th. Twenty seven students and faculty from four New England Land-Grant Universities participated in this year’s tour. There were six students each from the University of Connecticut (Dr. Sheila Andrew) and the University of Vermont (Don Maynard), three students from the University of New Hampshire (Dr. Peter Erickson), and eight students from the University of Massachusetts (Dr. Mark Huyler).

Traveling Dairy Tour 2008The responsibility of organizing the tour is rotated among the faculty advisors of the participating universities. This year’s tour was organized by Dr. Mark Huyler (UMass) and Alan Blair, Director of Dairy Industry Relations at Penn State University. We would like to thank Alan for his part in making the tour a success. Travel funding for this trip was made possible in part by a $5000 grant from the Farm Credit AgEnhancement Program. We gratefully acknowledge this generous donation.

We all gathered at the UMass Hadley Farm and boarded the bus at 10:30AM on Monday morning. That day was largely spent on the road getting to our first destination ( State College, PA). That evening faculty members from Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Department of Dairy Science gave a series of seminars on some of the research being done at PSU. First to speak was Dr. Jud Heinrichs, professor of Dairy and Animal Science, who talked about his research on dairy nutrition for raising heifers as efficiently as possible. Dr. Chad Dechow, assistant professor of Dairy Cattle Genetics, talked about research about genetics and cattle reproduction. Dr. Gabriella Varga, distinguished professor of Animal Science, spoke to us about her research on nutrition in lactating dairy cows where periparturient metabolic disorders are minimized while milk production postpartum is maximized.

Tuesday (Day 2) started with a tour of the dairy facilities at PSU, which houses about 300 dairy cows. The dairy has an “Intensive Research Barn”, which can house cows or heifers used for research that requires intensive sampling. The dairy facilities have both free stalls and a tie stall barn, which can house up to 60 cows.

From PSU, we traveled to Gettysburg, PA where we toured Mason-Dixon Farms. Richard Waybright, senior partner of Mason Dixon Farms, led the tour. Mason Dixon Farms, now in its eighth generation, has 2900 acres of land, milks more than 2400 Holsteins, and has over 1500 replacement heifers in a herd that has been closed since 1979. Mason Dixon recently completed work on a new barn that has 10 DeLaval robotic milkers. They expect to start work this spring on a mirror image of their current barn, which will house another 10 robots. Mason Dixon Farms has been energy self-sufficient since 1979 when they installed a biogas digester, which provides more energy than they can use. The digested manure is used to fertilize their crops using a slurry irrigation center-pivot system. This has greatly reduced the need for commercial fertilizers and lime and even increases crop yield in dry periods. Mason Dixon uses innovative techniques and equipment that are either new on the market or self-designed by the Waybrights themselves.

We closed out our second day of the tour with a sobering bus tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Known as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” it was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, with 51,000 casualties. The battle occurred over the first three days of July in 1863 and culminated with “Pickett’s Charge”. Our tour guide was very informative and interesting.

Day three’s first stop was a tour of Smysers Richlawn Farms in York, PA. This farm is a fifth generation family owned operation. Smysers Richlawn Farms has about a 30,000 lb. rolling average and is milking about 80 Holsteins in a closed herd. They crop about 1200 acres (soybeans, corn, and haylage) and raise dairy beef.

The group then traveled to Star Rock Farms in Conestoga, PA for a tour. Star Rock Farms milks around 1200 Holsteins 3 times a day in a double 20 rapid-exit parlor. Their cows were averaging about 85 lb milk a day. The facility was built four years ago and uses sand-bedded free stalls with a flush system for the manure waste. They recycle the sand from the waste stream while the waste water is pumped into a lagoon and irrigated onto their crop land.

The last farm tour of day three was the farm of Amish farmer, Sam Esh, in Lititz, PA. Mr. Esh milks 40 Holsteins in a tie stall using bucket milkers and maintains a 22,000 lb. rolling herd average. He farms on 45 acres and relies on a combination of custom harvesting and purchased feed to meet the needs of his dairy. Sam also has a state of the art 15,000 layer facility, and his eggs are marketed for vaccine production.

Our Wednesday ended with a bus tour of Lancaster County’s Amish community. It was quite impressive to look down a valley and be able to count 20 farms. Alan Blair served as our guide for the day and brought lots of insight into the Amish community’s way of life.

We spent Thursday (day four) at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. There were dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry, horses, goats, rabbits, sheep, and pigs being shown. Students were able to watch Team Cattle Penning competitions, taste foods from local farms, as well as discover the newest innovations in farm equipment. After leaving the Farm Show mid-afternoon we traveled to Towanda, PA and spent the night.

Friday marked the last day of our trip. We toured the Cargill-Taylor Packing Plant in Wyalusing, PA. They are the largest packing plant east of the Mississippi River, third largest in the country for cull dairy cows. The company employs about 1100 people in three shifts. The Cargill Taylor plant slaughters an average of 1900 animals a day. They slaughter mostly dairy culls but also process feeder steers as well. The meat products that this plant packs feed about 1.2 billion people. Cargill also generates 100% of their electricity, which would cost $35 million a year, from methane digesters.

This year’s tour was very informative and well organized. Perhaps most importantly, the weather cooperated beautifully. All of the farms that we visited were very well managed and successful operations. The Traveling Dairy Tour illustrated advances not only in genetics but also equipment innovations that have helped farmers to be more environmentally friendly. Next year’s tour coordinator will be Dr. Peter Erickson from UNH.

Jennifer Pond
University of Vermont
Department of Animal Science