Starting up a dairy in 2007, then weathering 2009's milk market bust would be enough to cash out just about any dairy farmer. Eric Vanstrom of Kennedy, N.Y., was almost in that predicament when he called in a Dairy Profit Team from Cornell Cooperative Extension.
"Coming off 2009, I had high debt and was buying a lot of feed to make 45 pounds of milk per cow," recalls the Chautauqua County dairyman. "I entered 2010 thinking I'd cash out at the end of the year," he acknowledges.
Vanstrom first met with the team in April 2010. It was comprised of Extension agents, his dairy nutritionist, a crop consultant, his loan officer and a New York FarmNet consultant. First item on their agenda was how to make better use of his feed.
Putting in a feed bunk to contain all feed was done before their next meeting. "That saved 20% of the feed that wasn't getting wasted – right away," he recalls. Next, the team recommended installing a fence to keep Vanstrom's cows where they needed to be. Between cement for the bunk and the fencing material, he spent about $1,000 – not a lot of money, but a big return on the investment.
Then Vanstrom was ready to take the next step: Construction of a 40-by-100, 48-stall barn to house his herd meant more capital and financing. He was without the cash, but needed the barn before winter.
With his loan officer clued in, he proposed buying the lumber and cement on a credit card, paying for the labor through cash and worrying about paying the debt after it's done. His loan officer wasn't a big fan of putting $10,000 on a credit card, but understood the need.
Forty-eight free stalls were ready on December 31. And, the investment immediately paid dividends by dropping milk somatic cell counts from 500,000 to 140,000 in one month.
Vanstrom continued to see benefits of increased herd health throughout 2011. "Last year, my total milk production was 786,000 pounds of milk," says the dairyman. "This year, I'm on pace to sell well over a million pounds. I've cut my cull rate in half. I sent three cows to beef this year. Last year at this time, I'd already sent 10."New York's Dairy Profit Team program is funded by a grant from the Syracuse-based New York Farm Viability Institute. For more details on the program, visit www.nyfvi.org. For details on Pennsylvania's Dairy Profit and Target Profit Team programs, visit www.centerfordairyexcellence.org.