in the desert

29 June 2001

How family unit makes it

in the desert

American dairy producers

face different challenges to

their UKcounterparts.

Hannah Velten reports on

a European Press visit to

Michigan sponsored by

Pharmacia Animal Health

DAIRYING in the middle of Arizona, on naturally infertile Sonoran Desert soil and in extremes of temperature, could be considered as the complete reverse of UK production.

And all comparisons fail when 6412 total head of cattle – 3640 in milk – 43 staff and an on-farm lab are added to the set-up.

Although Stotz Dairy, Buckeye, Phoenix, is anything but typical of US dairy farm size – average US herd size is 200 – it is not a factory farm, emphasises managing partner Tom Thompson. "We may be producing a rolling herd average of 12,181 litres/year and have been the top yielding herd in Arizona for 12 of the past 15 years, but we are essentially a family farm."

Mr Thompson enthusiastically told European journalists the units mantra: "Treat each cow as if she were your only cow – this is our goal and it is instilled in staff. We do not want to be the biggest unit in Arizona, but the best in terms of allowing our Holstein cows to reach their genetic potential by treating them with care."

The Arizona climate means cattle have to be protected against heat otherwise production and reproduction suffers. "For eight months of the year the climate is perfect for Holsteins. But they are not suited to highs of 51C, night time lows of 32C and 40% humidity during the monsoon season."

Cattle have access to automated air turbines, sprinklers and shading during milking and in housing areas. However, capital investment in and maintenance of equipment is costly because utility rates double during summer months.

Housing facilities allow cattle to be tightly monitored and rotated around the site, according their stage of lactation. Every aspect of their management is controlled by standardised protocols covering reproduction to fresh calver management. "This ensures cows are treated individually and staff know exactly what is required of them," said Mr Thompson.

Milking cows are kept in 20 corrals around the two parlours in groups of 144-250 animals. Corrals are also equipped with self-locking crushes for reproductive palpation and AI procedures. Smaller pens are used for monitoring fresh calvers, sick animals and those calving.

Cows are fence-line fed three times a day. Farmland receiving an annual rainfall of 15cm (6in), with additional dairy slurry, supports 971ha (2400 acres) of lucerne and 283ha (700 acres) of maize, which make up the basis of the total mixed ration. Lucerne is fed both as hay and zero grazed – freshly cut and fed.

By-products and commodities make up the rations, with high yielders receiving 10 ingredients, including animal tallow, anchovy meal and gin trash. This ration provides 16.5% crude protein and 6% fat, costing £3.20/head/day.

Two milking parlours, the original 34-stall polygon and a newer 60-stall herringbone, are needed to cope with cow numbers and three times-a-day milking, with three dairymen working in each. Both are fully automated, equipped with recording data and stand-by generators.

Milk production in healthy cows is increased by up to 14.8% by using the artificial hormone bovine somatotrophin (BST), which stimulates feed intakes by 5.2%, added Mr Thompson.

Following milking protocols, staff handle every cow in the same way, ensuring strict hygiene and mastitis prevention controls. This, combined with annual triple vaccination against E coli, keeps the herds somatic cell count below 250,000/ml and herd mastitis incidence at less than 0.5%.

Labour cost 2.0

Hay and feed 9.6

Vet and breeding 0.3

Fuel/utilities/repairs 1.4

Others 3.2

* Excluding interest

Stotz Dairy 1999 costs


Total income 21.2

Milk income 18.3

Total costs (excl interest) 16.5

Labour cost 2.0

Hay and feed 9.6

Vet and breeding 0.3

Fuel/utilities/repairs 1.4

Others 3.2


&#8226 Prevent heat stress.

&#8226 Treat cows as individuals.

&#8226 Disease prevention important.

See more