Expanding comfort

Written by Kara Petrovic
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After years of struggling with roller-coaster somatic cell count numbers and over-crowded pastures, Shelly and Jarrett Smith, father and son and Southeast Area members, decided it was finally time to take their dairy’s cow comfort to a new level.

“Our cows were crunched,” Jarrett says. “At times, we’d have anywhere between 175 to 200 cows on a 16-acre square.”

Last January, the Smiths began construction on a compost-bedded pack barn, an alternative type of dairy housing that many producers like the Smiths consider building when upgrading their milking herd facilities due to the costs compared to building freestall barns.

Instead of concrete, which is found in freestall barns, pack barns are built on clay, and beds are packed with a mixture of soft-wood shavings and sawdust. In addition, these barns are known to come with less capital investment in terms of manure storage, which the Smiths liked. 

In early July, the Smiths moved their 175 milking herd (75 percent Holstein and 25 percent Holstein-Jersey cross) into the new barn and saw improved cow comfort within a few weeks. Inside the barn, Jarrett says the cows enjoy resting on the dry bedding and making their way to the feed alley, which is filled three times a day with a mixture of corn silage and small grain haylage.

“Since the transition, we’ve not been culling as aggressively,” Jarrett says. “We’ve also seen improved somatic cell numbers, and those numbers have been much easier to maintain. It used to be that when we’d round the cows up from the pasture, they would be almost knee deep in mud. But now, this new barn keeps them much cleaner before we take them to the parlor for milking.”
Like Jarrett, Shelly says the new barn has been a great addition to their operation.

“It’s made a world of difference,” Shelly says. “The cows look forward to going to the barn every day after milking.” Since the barn’s completion, the herd’s milk quality has improved, as well as the herd’s overall appearance.

Cow comfort has always been a priority at Smith Dairy, a third-generation farm in Norwood, N.C., which Shelly’s father founded in 1945 upon his return from World War II. After a tragic tractor accident took Shelly’s father’s life in 1977, Shelly, along with his brother and mother, formed a three-way partnership to carry out his father’s legacy. Then, in the early 1980s, Shelly became full owner after buying out his mother’s and brother’s shares.

Today,  Shelly and Jarrett oversee the dairy and the farm’s owned and rented 800 acres, which are used to grow row crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton. And as spring approaches, Shelly says he and Jarrett are eager to capture the manure from the barn to spread on the fields.

“We  had some upfront cost when it came to building this new facility, but I think we are going to come out ahead in the long run by saving the manure as a fertilizer,” Shelly says.

In addition to Shelly and Jarrett, the Smiths also employ three full-time employees, but Shelly is quick to note that Jarrett is the main one in charge.

“I recently turned all the business side of the dairy over to him,” Shelly says. “I’m still here to help when needed, but he’s overseeing everything.”

Although Jarrett says he always knew he wanted to return to the family farm after college, he followed his father’s advice: “If you’re going to try anything different, now is the time to do it.”