Virtual Farm Tour: T&K Red River Dairy – Arizona
After a brutal winter in the Midwest, some calf raisers might say they can’t remember what hot weather feels like. In contrast, calf teams on Arizona dairies battle hot temperatures most of the year.
T&K Red River Dairy is owned and operated by Tom Dugan and his family near Casa Grande, Arizona. The farm currently milks about 10,400 cows and raises all of its own youngstock.
Beating the heat
Rosa and Enrique Rodriguez have worked at T&K since 2008, transitioning to calf manager roles in April 2011. Prior to joining the T&K team, the couple worked on a calf ranch in eastern Wisconsin. Rosa said she much preferred raising calves in Wisconsin’s cooler climate.
“It can sometimes get to 120 degrees here,” she said.
Obviously, heat abatement is a key to raising calves on this farm. Hutches are raised with cinder blocks in the back to improve airflow. During extreme heat, one- to 10-day-old calves are showered with water up to seven times per day. They also have constant access to cool water, which is refreshed frequently on hot days.
If a baby calf gets dehydrated, it is placed in an individual pen with an evaporative cooler. The system effectively acts like an air conditioner to help the calf recover as it receive water and electrolytes.
Hot temperatures are stressful on the farm’s employees as well. Rosa and Enrique try to accommodate employees by allowing for plenty of time to rest. Four water coolers are placed around the calf area to keep employees hydrated as well.
Pens in barn systems are used for baby calves on many southwest dairies. Up until a couple years ago, T&K used those systems as well. However, after struggling with joint issues and pneumonia, owner and manager Tim Dugan decided it was time for change.
Dugan did a lot of research, including working with J Hall of Hall’s Calf Ranch in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, to design the best facilities. He ultimately settled on hutches to house about 3,000 young calves. The investment is already paying off through fewer treatments and an overall better environment for the calf.
“The hutches are working much better than the barn,” Enrique said. He and Rosa explained the farm is seeing many fewer joint issues and pneumonia challenges.
Hutches are placed on sand bedding and Dugans have planted trees throughout the calf area to provide shade in the future. At about 90 days of age, they move to corrals in groups of 10. Three weeks later, the groups will grow to 20 calves. When they reach about 300 pounds, the calves move to the heifer facilities, which are located nearby on the dairy. But if they are able to keep the heifers in the calf facilities longer, they do.
“If we keep them for more time here, the heifer manager has fewer problems over there,” Rosa said.
Engaged employees care about calves
Rosa and Enrique said employee management is one of the most important – and most challenging – parts of raising healthy calves. To build their management skills, they have been taking a communication and management class along with a few other farm team members. They said it’s been a big help in becoming effective leaders.
For training, Rosa works side-by-side with new employees for at least three days until she is confident they can handle the tasks on their own. She and Enrique continue to work closely with all employees every day, offering compliments and encouragement to boost morale. In addition, they do special things like buying cakes to celebrate employees’ birthdays. Enrique said “keeping good people” is the biggest key to calf raising and making employees feel valued is a big part of that.
A high level of engagement pays off when it comes to animal care and motivating employees to work through hot conditions. Rosa said she is confident in her team’s abilities and passion for their work.
“Our employees love the babies,” Rosa said. “I never have to question our animal welfare. They are always good to them.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care