Virtual farm tour: DCS Farms LLC

Posted on February 10, 2022 in Starting Strong - Calf Care

The best 66 cows possible

Chris Roth has a passion for raising and milking great cows and he knows the first step is providing great care to his calves.

“Any problems calves have in the preweaned period, you see how much that translates when they’re older and growing or getting bred,” he said.

As such, Roth focuses on providing as clean and consistent of an environment as possible at DCS Farms LLC in Waunakee, Wisconsin.  Roth owns the fifth-generation dairy farm with his father, Dan.  Roth’s father-in-law and wife also help on the farm.  They milk 66 registered Holsteins with a rolling herd average of 32,900 pounds on twice-a-day milking.  Roth said his goal is to “have the best 66 cows I can.”

Every animal at DCS Farms is genomic-tested and Roth uses that information to guide the farm’s culling and breeding decisions.

“We’re only raising the animals we want to be raising,” he explained.

A close-up cow or heifer is moved into one of four individual maternity pens in the freestall barn one to two days pre-calving.  Newborn heifer calves are fed 4 quarts of maternal colostrum that scores at least 22% with a Brix refractometer.  If maternal colostrum is insufficient, the calf receives a colostrum replacer instead.  Calves stay in the calving area with its deep straw bedding until they are dry and then move to the calf barn.

The Roths retrofitted the farm’s old stanchion barn in 2008.  They first installed positive pressure tubes themselves, but Roth said he highly recommends farms work with ventilation experts right away.  When calves were getting too cold, they worked with their veterinarians to design a system better suited for the barn and have had great results.  On “wet, nasty days,” they turn on the barn’s original tunnel fans.  Roth said they rarely deal with pneumonia challenges now.

Calves are fed Vita Plus Talon, a 25/25 milk replacer, twice a day.  They receive 2 quarts per feeding for the first couple of days, 3 quarts for two weeks, and then 4 quarts for the remainder of the preweaned period.  Calves are introduced to water and Vita Plus BSF calf starter with 18% protein right away.  At about seven weeks of age, Roth begins the weaning process.  The milk replacer feeding is reduced to 3 quarts for four days, then 2 quarts for four days and then 1 quart for four days.  Roth said this gradual weaning process “seems to eliminate the stress for them.”  Weaned calves will remain in their individual pens for about one week.

Roth said a key feature of the feeding program is the focus on consistency.  Water and milk replacer powder are weighed before mixing.  A temperature valve on the water line helps ensure a consistent feeding temperature.  Roth also feeds from nipple bottles for the entire preweaned period to provide a consistent feeding volume.

Weaned calves move to group pens in the same barn with no more than four calves per pen.  To limit stress, they receive the same 18% BSF calf starter for a week before transitioning to a grower feed with 16% protein and being introduced to grass hay.  At 12 weeks, they move out of this barn.

Roth also said, “Cleaning is a top priority on this farm.”

All individual pens are pressure-washed, foamed and sanitized after a calf moves out.  With 20 pens, a sanitized pen can stay empty for a couple of weeks before a new calf is placed in it.  All pens are bedded with deep straw and shavings year-round.

Roth occasionally weighs calves to make sure the program is on track, and the farm achieves an average daily gain of 2 pounds.  He attributes the success to the simplicity and consistency of the feeding program and the clean environment provided for every calf.

“I really want our heifers to be big enough to give enough milk right away,” he said.

Looking forward, Roth said his focus is on continually improving the productivity and efficiency of his herd.  The freestall barn, which was built in 2004, was designed to accommodate a herd expansion.  However, the current herd size allows Roth and his family to do all the chores without hired labor, which he cites as a major advantage.

“Instead of having more cows, I’d rather get more milk from the ones I have,” he said.  “It starts with the calves.”

Category: Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care