Maximizing comfort and productivity in a hot, humid climate – Don Bennink, North Florida Holsteins

Posted on June 29, 2016 in Starting Strong - Calf Care

Click here to download Bennink’s PowerPoint presentation.

By Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen
In the past few decades, North Florida Holsteins has figured out how to achieve more than 90 pounds of milk per day in an environment where extreme heat stress is the norm.

“We deal with immense heat and immense humidity,” Don Bennick, partner in North Florida Holsteins in Bell, Florida, told dairy producers during the Vita Plus Calf Summit 2016.

The New York native bought a Florida feedlot in 1980 and converted it into, what is now, one of Florida’s largest dairy operations. Through trial and error, Bennick pioneered a heat abatement system that keeps every cow cool and comfortable, despite the extreme climate.

Starting out in the early years with just shade, water and a feedbunk for the animals, Bennick recognized the benefits of providing his cows with additional relief from the heat. One of the first attempts at doing this was digging cooling ponds in the cow yards. Cows would stand in the water long enough to drop their body temperature, then leave to eat or rest. The walkway to the milking parlor was a water bath that kept cows both cooler and cleaner.

“This was a good demonstration of what cow cooling could do,” Bennick said.

Bennick’s next step in relieving heat stress was to try cooling cows at the bunk. He put up shade over the feeding areas and added sprinklers to soak the cows. To keep cows clean and dry, they attempted shaded, bedded packs, but, because of the amount of bedding and labor required to maintain them, decided to design a freestall barn that could benefit cows in the extreme environment.

“2002 was our first attempt at a tunnel-ventilated barn,” Bennick recalled.

A first-of-its-kind in the Southeast, the barn featured baffles to help speed up the air. This was a major improvement, but he saw opportunity to provide additional heat stress relief.

“We were moving a lot of air in the tunnel barns and had sprinklers at the bunk, but when fighting 95 degrees with high humidity, we needed more,” he added.

That’s when he added evaporative cooling, combining the effects of both misters and fans together.

These days, all 4,700 milking cows are housed in tunnel-ventilated barns with sprinklers and misters strategically placed for additional heat abatement. However, Bennick doesn’t stop there. He makes sure cows stay cool when they leave the pen for milking too.

“We are able to take cows to a sub-normal temperature (98 degrees F) in the holding area,” he said.

As cows move through the holding area, large push fans cool them from overhead and spray them with water from the top as well as a waterline on the floor. Then, a series of circulating fans cool and dry the cows before they enter the milking parlor.

Once in the parlor, the milking process is as efficient as possible, milking 493 cows per hour in a parallel parlor.

“Parlor efficiency is life or death for us,” Bennick said.

Likewise, he strives to get cows back to their comfortable, cool, sand-bedded stalls in the barn as quickly as possible after milking. A programmed sort gate funnels cows to the palpation rail for pregnancy checks and reproduction work.

“With our heat and humidity, I am not a fan of lockups,” he added.

Dairying in an extreme environment may have challenged Bennick with “a lot of unique problems,” but this dairyman has figured out how to successfully handle heat and humidity.

Category: Facility design
Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care