Drumbo detailer has best-managed herd from here to B.C.
By Brandy Harrison
DRUMBO Chris McLaren tries to bore his cows.
The Drumbo dairy farmer keeps to a strict, consistent routine everything happens at the same time and in the same way every day, shots and vet checks are never done in the parlour or free stalls, and McLaren channels his own inner calm whenever hes in the barn.
“They dont like change, as my dad likes to say. Cows like to be bored,” says the 37-year-old, who milks 80 cows with his father, Grant, and his uncle, Dan at Larenwood Farms.
Keeping a lid on cow stress levels is working: the McLarens have the best-managed herd from Ontario to British Columbia.
Their herd management score with CanWest DHI (dairy herd improvement) beat out about 4,000 other herds on test with 985 out of a possible 1,000 points in six areas: milk value, udder health, age at first calving, calving interval, longevity, and herd efficiency.
In Ontario, the runner-up was Summitholm Holsteins of Lynden, near Hamilton, owned by Carl, Dave, and Ben Loewith. Brakke Farm of Grand Valley, in Dufferin County, owned by Jacob and Nelleke Brakke, rounded out the top three.
There isnt one recipe for management success, says McLaren. When details and consistency rule the day, it just adds up.
Aiming for healthy, trouble-free cows that make milk with ease, the McLarens feed a high-quality, forage-heavy diet, ensure every cow has a breeding plan, match the right cows and bulls to improve genetics and produce calves that are better than their dams, and closely monitor cow transitions from dry to close-up to fresh.
“Its making sure there is nothing standing in the way to keep her from producing as much milk as she genetically can,” he says.
Every management decision is interconnected, he says. Good reproduction choices can snowball, producing better calves, which over time can ripple out to improve genetics, profitability, and longevity.
“Its like balancing a whole bunch of little balls in the air and trying not to drop them all at the same time,” says McLaren.
After joining the farm full time a decade ago, McLaren realized that no matter what they did, 35 litres per cow per day was the production ceiling in their 40-year-old tie stall.
Ready to break the logjam, they put in six to seven years of research before deciding on a new sand-bedded freestall barn. The move-in was in 2012.
McLaren is convinced sand bedding is the gold standard for cow comfort, udder health, and longevity. He sees cows with their legs stretched out or lying completely on their sides.
“Theyre there for hours, lying happily chewing their cud,” he says.
Somatic cell count has dropped by half and the herd is weighed toward more high-producing older cows that have already paid their way, including the farms first two homebred EX cows. Production is up to between 40 and 45 litres and fat percentage is now a steady 4 to 4.2.
Every cow also has a buddy in the new barn McLaren banks on familiarity to produce calm cattle.
Two months before theyre due to calve, cows are moved into the dry cow group to ease social disruption. Theyre with the same cows in the calving pen and the fresh cow group until theyre paired off to move to the young or mature cow groups.
“You move a cow with a friend. Nine times out of 10, in a group of 30 or 40 animals, youll find those two lying beside each other,” says McLaren.
Keen to keep improving, the McLarens arent afraid to seek advice, keep their ears to the ground at meetings and workshops for the latest research, and rely on their team, including DHI and their employees, A.I. company, veterinary clinic, and nutritionist.
But there are still times when they also need a bit of luck, says McLaren.
“Sometimes you do the best you can and it doesnt turn out. You go back to the drawing board. Thats the fun of dairy farming: its a challenge every day.”