Smith Family Farm in Gansevoort, NY is owned by Ed Smith and his son Travis. The Smiths are milking about 240 cows with a rolling herd average of 29,000 lbs and a SCC (somatic cell count) of under 100,000. While Ed did some owner sampler testing before Travis returned to the farm, they have been testing regularly with Dairy One DHI technician Kim Gregory since 2015.
The Smiths don’t use any type of software to manage their herd and rely heavily on DHI data and their own expertise to guide management decisions. The reports Kim prints for them on test day are used to make a multitude of decisions across the farm from culling to breeding to dry offs. “The data is a huge deal, “ says Ed. “If you took it away from us now it would be like cutting 4 fingers off our hand.”
One of the top pieces of information Ed and Travis look at is SCC. Ed recalls a time in the late 80’s when many farms were struggling to get their somatic cell count below 300,000. “The industry has changed a lot since then, “ he says. Low SCC means quality milk, healthy cows, and from a business standpoint, higher premiums.
To keep SCC below 100,000, and capture the top premium from their processor, Stewart’s, Travis looks closely at the percentage each cow contributes to the total SCC. “You never know who the bad cow is until she comes up on the report,” says Travis. At one point they noticed their SCC creeping up and saw they had 2 cows who were responsible for 30% of the total SCC. By removing just those two cows they were able to bring the herd’s SCC back to below 100,000. DHI information is also a helpful tool as the Smiths work to keep the herd’s combined components at 2,000 lbs or more. “If you can only send so much milk out the door, you want it to be worth the most,” says Ed.
Aside from managing quality and components, Travis also uses test day information to make day-to-day decisions. After each test Kim leaves them with a dry off list, a freshening list, and a vet list. “Prior to that we had to sit down and go through the vet list but now I just snap a picture with my phone and bring it with me when I’m sorting cows, “ says Travis. “They’re also helpful planning tools.”
In 2019 the Smiths built a new heifer barn to raise their heifers on site. Since bringing the heifers to the home farm, they saw their herd average make a significant jump. While some of this is due to feed quality, they contribute most of the increase to fewer transitions and an ability to better manage their heifers. Heifer records have now become a part of their DHI test day. With Kim’s help, they are better able to track reproductive information and have a more accurate view of their inventory.
The Smiths are currently looking to put in a new parlor, but aside from that, they don’t have plans for herd expansion. “What we have right now is manageable,” says Ed. For both Ed and Travis, being profitable and having some life balance is important. They seem to have found that sweet spot.
What they do want to grow in is efficiency. “We’ll always be trying to get better,” says Travis. And for the Smiths, working with Dairy One for DHI testing is going to be key to that. “Getting all of that information on test day makes a huge difference in our management. It allows us to know what’s going on, limits the surprises, and helps us make more informed decisions about the herd.”