In February a group from the Institute including our Advanced Dairy Management students, some barn staff, and a few local producers were fortunate enough to attend the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. While in California we got an overview of how large dairies operate and deal with the unique climate and political issues of the region.
We visited five large dairies located in the Central Valley. This region is known for dry conditions that produce challenges we are unfamiliar with in the Northeast. Access to water is very limited and irrigation of crops is essential for growing feed. However, the warm, dry climate also allows the opportunity to more easily manage some practices such as using composted manure for bedding and utilizing solids separation systems.
A couple of the farms we visited have recently built solar fields to offset energy costs. They were able to do this through government programs and grants. The producers we talked to were happy with their investments so far and estimated that the systems they had installed would produce 70-80% of the energy they needed to operate. Another farm we toured is reducing energy costs by using methane collected from manure to power their facilities and milk trucks.
We saw several differences in milking and feeding practices compared to typical operations in our state. One of these was the use of washing systems to clean cows in the holding area instead of using pre-dips. The wash was sprayed up from the floor to clean the underside of the cows while they waited to be milked. Feeding also differed slightly because the diversity of agriculture in the region allows dairymen to feed a wide variety of byproducts. Some of these included oranges, almond hulls, and carrots.
After touring these farms we spent two days at the World Ag Expo. This is an annual event displaying new agricultural technology, machinery, and ideas. It took place at the International Agri-Center in Tulare and included 1600 vendors spread over more than 50 acres. In addition to a barn dedicated to the dairy industry, the show featured many other areas of California agriculture. We saw everything from olive and pistachio harvesting equipment and logging machinery to farm home art. Overall, the trip was a very educational experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking for new ideas or anyone interested in learning how farms are operated in different parts of the country.
Cows in free stall with rubber at front and rear feet.
Twin double-32 parlor.
Solar farm at California dairy.
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