John Westra at Summit Dairy field day

Summit Dairy owner John Westra shows field day attendees his commodity barn at Summit Dairy near Primghar. He had expanded the size of the barn in 2014 to keep all of the dry ingredients for his cow feed safe from the wind and rain.

PRIMGHAR—Making sure his cows are comfortable and well fed are top priorities for John Westra.

Westra, who owns Summit Dairy west of Primghar, explained how he achieves those two goals during a field day hosted by I-29 Moo University on his dairy farm Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The dairy farmer led about 20 attendees on a tour of Summit Dairy’s facilities, including a commodity barn where he stores his feed supplies for his cows.

Westra said when he and his family first moved to Iowa from California in 2012 to operate Summit Dairy, they kept their hay and other dry feed matter outside where it was exposed to the wind and rain.

Since he would lose 3 percent to 15 percent of his feed to the wind alone every year, Westra decided to construct the commodity barn where hay and ingredients for his cows’ feed could be stored under a roof all year.

The ration Westra prepares for his cows consists of hay that he combines with a premix of protein- and mineral-based ingredients that includes cottonseed, canola, NovaMeal, milk cow mineral, BergaFat and ground corn. When he combines those ingredients, he does so in bulk amounts rather than smaller batches.

“It is way easier to go 8,000 pounds of it in one load versus 500 pounds of this and 500 pounds of that and have seven or eight different ingredients going into that load,” he said. “You have way too big of a scale of margin of loss.”

As the hay and premix are being combined, Westra also adds molasses to provide a sweet taste to the mixture while making the finer ingredients stick together. He then adds silage to the mixture. The last step he does is cover the feed in salted whey, which gives the ration a longer storage life.

Hugo Ramirez, an assistant professor and dairy specialist at Iowa State University in Ames, accompanied Westra on the tour and explained to the attendees that cows like the sweet and salty combination from the molasses and whey.

John Westra Summit Dairy field day

John Westra gestures toward the stall that houses his close-up cows, or cows that are three weeks away from giving birth to their calves. At the back of the stall behind the cows is foot path he can walk along to check on the animals without disturbing them.

Ramirez also emphasized the importance of consistency when it comes to feeding cows the same ingredients in the same proportions like Westra does by mixing bulk amounts of feed.

“Everything that we can do on the clock and the exact same way, time after time, cows will really show how much they like that,” Ramirez said.

As the tour group walked through the commodity barn, Ramirez offered them information about the ingredients Westra uses in his feed and how those ingredients impact cows.

Cottonseed, for instance, is nutritious for cows provided they eat it in the right proportions. Since it floats on the surface of the cow’s rumen, cottonseed does not ferment as quickly, which allows more time for cows to fully digest the nutrients.

Ramirez said diets of dry cows, or cows that are not lactating, are especially crucial given how much they eat.

“Dry cows, they don’t do anything,” he said. “They spend the whole day in the barn, so they get bored and the only distraction they have is when they go and eat, they start playing around with the feed.”

Milking cows, on the other hand, do not experience that problem as much since they have the distraction of going to the milking parlor.

“To me your dry cow is your most important cow in the whole dairy,” Westra said.

Ramirez agreed, explaining that any health problems or discomfort dry cows experience can have future repercussions for their calves. One example he gave was that a heifer born from a cow that suffered heat stress will likely produce about 1,000 pounds less milk during her first lactation.

“When we do walk-throughs when we are troubleshooting, the first place that we visit is the dry cows,” Ramirez said. “Most people say, ‘No, let’s go to the fresh cow because that’s where I have all my problems.’ Well, they’re coming from the dry cows.”