The Progressive Dairy Operators (PDO) sponsored their first international trip in five years to California to attend the World Ag Expo, tour farms and learn more about dairying in the largest-producing milk state

The group visited eight dairies ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 cows and one organic dairy that milked 600 head. The focus of the trip was to observe housing, milking and management with a particular emphasis on labour issues.

Housing has changed over the years as farms have gone from open lots to freestall housing, which is now the norm to reduce runoff and to provide concentrated heat stress relief. We observed some dry lot housing for heifers, but the recent rainfall demonstrated how runoff can be an issue.

The group observed all forms of heat stress relief, such as high-speed fans, sprinklers and misters, as the temperatures exceed 38ºC. 

Labour is an issue in California, as it is difficult to find and keep good workers, resulting in automation. One dairy had a 72-stall rotary parlour with individual robotic attachments. On all the dairies that they visited, the group heard similar comments, such as, "You never have a problem with a robot showing up for work every day, and the cows are milked the same way every time." Two other dairies with 1,500 cows and 2,200 cows were milking with both robots and parlour milking.

57367-kcoyne-2.jpgPhoto provided by Harold House.

Heifer raising was variable, with most heifers leaving the farm when they were 1 day old to a heifer grower or calf ranch. One stop on the tour was a calf ranch with 14,000 calves in hutches and 16,000 weaned calves in corals. PDO producers learned that calf care is universal, whether you are raising 14 or 14,000.

57367-kcoyne-3.jpgPhoto provided by Harold House.

California dairy producers are diversifying with almond groves, larger cheese plants on farms and flavored milk. At Hilmar Dairy, they are producing 7.5 million litres (2 million gallons) of milk to produce around 91,000 kilograms (2 million pounds) of cheese per day.

Methane digesters were either present or being built on most dairies. Most are piped directly to renewable energy plants. In all, 50,000 cows are producing renewable energy just on the farms the group visited.

Article provided by Harold House of Progressive Dairy Operators.