Ervin Lambright likes to work with dairy cows even though it means getting up at 4:30 a.m. each day to start milking by 5:30 a.m.
Lambright and his wife, who live on a farm west of Bloomfield, started their dairy in 1981 by milking 8-12 cows. In 1996, they began milking with machines and allowed the children to help as they increased the herd size to 20, then 40-45. In 2008, the family built a milking barn featuring fresh air climate and increased their herd to 60 cows.
Lambright says his priorities for his cattle are to keep them healthy, clean and comfortable, and the family’s barn is designed to do just that.
The barn features seven-foot curtain sidewalls that can be rolled up in the summer and lowered in the winter. Six large fans are used to circulate air and keep the cattle cool in the summer.
“With the sidewalls down in the winter, we can keep temperatures above freezing in the barn — even at 20º below,” Lambright said. “The animals heat it up.”
The cows appear to be contented in their stalls with automatic waterers and padded mats. Behind the two rows of cows are floating gutters that work by gravity to carry the manure flow into an outdoor lagoon.
The milking machines are powered by vacuum pumps as Lambright and son Wesley spend about 1.25 to 1.5 hours milking their 60 cows in the morning and again in the evening.
The barn is also designed to simplify the feeding process. Two Belgian horses pull a large mixer dispensing a TMR (Total Mix Ration) in front of each row of cows in the morning.
The TMR not eaten during the day is pushed closer to the cows right before the evening milking at 5:30 p.m. so they will be on their feet at milking time.
The ration fed to the cows is formulated by a nutritionist from Missouri, but Lambright adjusts the ration if needed.
The TMR consists of good quality hay purchased from the western states, ear corn, and sileage. Lambright’s family puts up about 1,200 ton of sileage for the cattle each year and raises the corn needed for the ration.
“You need fancy hay — like that grown in Colorado — and sileage to produce good milk,” Lambright said. “The hay we raise here is used for forage for the heifers, not the milk cows.”
Lambright also said taking good care of dry cows is a key component in performance. “Good care will reduce vet bills and reduce the stress of calving,” he commented.
Lambright’s goal is to average about 4,000 lbs. of milk per day from his herd of 60. Each gallon, he said, weighs about 8.6 lbs., which rounds off to 465 gallon per day.
“Each cow produces about 30,000 lbs. of milk per lactation,” Lambright said.
Throughout her productive lifespan, each cow produces about 260,000 lbs. of milk, he added. To illustrate the amount each cow can produce, consider a semi-load of milk equals 40,000 lbs.
“It amazes me the amount of nutrition that comes out of the forage we feed to create milk for humans,” he said.
Beyond feeding and milking the cows, the Lambrights have additional responsibilities to keep the animals healthy and producing at top capacity.
The cows’ hooves are trimmed twice a year by a professional hoof trimmer who places the cows into a chute one-by-one and manages to trim the hooves of about 10 cows per hour.
To keep the cows comfortable, Lambright also calls in someone to spray for flies every three weeks during the summer.
Lambright submits milk samples to the DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) once a month. From DHIA, he has learned that his rolling herd average per cow per year is 34,264 lbs. of milk, 1,080 lbs. of fat, and 766 lbs. of protein.
Lambright keeps track of his feed costs, and the DHIA is able to tell him how much profit each cow makes per day. This information is helpful when culling older cows.
“Testing also tells us whether a cow has mastitis,” Lambright said. “If the cell count is bad enough, we isolate the milk from that cow. Usually the mastitis is just in one teat, and we may be able to use a quarter milker to keep that milk separated.
“If a cow has a good immune system, she can clean herself,” he said. Drugs can be used to boost recovery if necessary.
The milk from a cow with mastitis is not wasted, Lambright said. It is feed to the calves.
Lambright has improved the genetics of his herd by purchasing good 6-12-month-old bulls. All of his cows are home-raised and bred. He currently has two bulls, though he usually has three.
He keeps the best heifers to improve his herd and sells the others by the pound. “We sell the bull calves to whoever may want them,” he said. “There is usually an outlet for them.
“We use genomic testing and strive for a 2700 TPI (Total Performance Index),” he said. “We try to keep a good handle on our statistics.”
Though the dairy market is not good right now and many have exited the industry, Lambright began selling to Milton Creamery about two years ago.
“They pay a little more than the others,” he said, as he indicated his appreciation for the opportunity to sell to them.
“The dairy industry has really changed,” he said. “A small guy can stay competitive, but there’s not much room for mistakes.”
Lambright said he and his wife felt the dairy industry would be a good occupation for their children and family, and more of his family will soon become involved in the business.
“Our oldest daughter, Mrs. Melvin Beechy and her family will help, and I’m going to take it easier,” he said.