Farmer Focus

Liberty Hill Farm

Rochester, VT

What makes milk, milk?

The white liquid from cows that you can pick up in stores is jam-packed with proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals. For the Kennetts, awareness of these various milk components is very important for their business, Liberty Hill Farm near Rochester, VT.

“Well, it doesn’t pay to haul water, unless you’re in the water business,” Dave Kennett said. “Butter fat is important, obviously for butter production, and protein’s really important in cheese production and all your other dairy products.”

Dave owns and operates Liberty Hill Farm with his parents, Bob and Beth Kennett. The dairy has grown from a 34-cow operation in 1979 to 100 milking cows and roughly 270 total in the herd today. The Agri-Mark, Inc. member-owners’ milk is used to make Cabot cheese, making high-protein milk important, Kennett said. “We also pay attention to our somatic cell count, or mastitis level, that helps provide quality milk to the cheese making business.”

Cow care is at the core of producing high milk components, Dave Kennett said.

“You’re really trying to make a healthy cow; a healthy cow will have a healthy rumen, and those rumen bugs will really activate your protein percent,” Kennett said. At Liberty Hill Farm, the Kennetts use a combination of technology, feed, and breeding to maximize the production of their registered Holstein herd for both protein and high butter fat.

“In our registered Holstein herd, we breed a lot for the phenotypic type of the animal and also for butter fat production,” Kennett said. “We like to see our Holsteins average like a 4.2% fat, where maybe industry average is closer to 3.5%. So, we’re seeing seven-tenths of a point of butter fat increase, just in the genetics and the way we feed them.”

The Kennetts feed their cows a partial mix ration, where the cows get some of their nutrition from mixed feed then get the rest from specific forage that isn’t part of the mix. “We mix a ration in the wagon, but then our cows also get some free-choice long stem hay that helps kind of buffer their stomach to help produce that butter fat,” Kennett said.

The cows also have access to free-choice bicarb—sodium bicarbonate that the cows can access if they want or need it but aren’t required to consume—which Kennett said is like an antacid for the cows, “to keep their stomachs in optimum form to be able to produce milk and produce components.” Working with nutritionists, the Kennetts have also been able to get steady protein levels.

Liberty Hill Farm has 220 acres of cropland. The Kennetts farm 350 acres of land, including some neighboring rented fields. With land at a premium—as well as higher-quality milk being a priority—the Kennetts started experimenting with additional ways to grow crops for feed that can help boost milk components, including planting triticale as a forage source last year. Triticale harvested at the right time is a super food, a powerhouse of nutrition for the cows.

Dave is excited to see how components will fare this summer, with the herd responding to the new forage in addition to the corn silage and hay they normally eat.

“We like to make really high-quality dry hay, which we call ‘the tickle factor’,” Kennett said. “The cows need just a little tickle factor to keep them healthy. You don’t want to feed them high-octane feed all the time, this adds variety for them.”

David is integrating cow monitors, cow Fitbits, into the milking herd this summer to measure ruminant activity, movement, temperature and other health and nutrition information. Information is critical to successful herd management.

Liberty Hill Farm has had success getting high milk components, as well as volume, from their Holstein herd. “Our registered Holsteins are great because they can produce a high volume of milk, but they’re also producing the components. I think the modern-day Holstein can really compete with a Jersey as far as making components.”

While using technology to improve and monitor cow care, incorporating a healthful diet and breeding the Holsteins to be more productive are all helping to make Liberty Hill Farm successful, dairy farmers are not being paid as much as they could be for these increases in milk components. Modernizing Federal Milk Marketing Orders to keep up with improving milk quality will help farmers’ bottom line – and finance further improvements, Kennett said.

“The bottom line is how you get paid, and to ensure the business goes forward and continues to the next generation,” Kennett said. Dave and his wife, Asia, have four children, ages 3, 5, 8 and 12, and they hope to be able to pass the business on to them one day.

“I’ve got four options for the next generation, so it’s pretty important to make it available to them,” he said. “Being paid for those components that we work hard every day to produce by keeping healthy cows will be what allows us to move forward.”


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