Whatcom County Dairyland News: Vol. 9, Jan/Feb 2016 - Washington Dairy

Whatcom County Dairyland News: Vol. 9, Jan/Feb 2016

Lynden school barn serves as agriculture-based classroom

Dairy and crop farmer Debbie VanderVeen of Veen Huizen Farms LLC helped stock the school barn with dairy cows (Photo courtesy Whatcom Business Pulse)

For more than 20 years, the Lynden School Barn Project has introduced agriculture to hundreds of “non-farm kids” who now live in what historically has been an agriculture-centric area. Urban growth and non-agricultural industry expansion in Whatcom County has resulted in an estimated 95% of Lynden high school students coming from a non-farm family.

Animal physiology teacher Ladd Shumway helped get the school barn project started, and now introduces animal health and well-being to about 100 Lynden high school students each year. “We worked with farmers and ag-organizations to build the school barn as an opportunity for our students to learn about farm animals and careers in agriculture,” he said. “The students enjoy working at the barn even on days when it is cold and rainy.”

In addition to teaching, Shumway leads the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) group that has blossomed since the school barn program started. “Our FFA Chapter grew from about ten students before the school barn to more than 100 students, many of them showing their school barn animals at the fair,” he continued, “so if we didn’t have the barn we would have fewer students participating.”

Lynden farmers got grant funding and in-kind support from the Whatcom Dairy Federation, Whatcom County Farm Bureau, Whatcom County Dairy Women and the Washington Holstein Association to provide nearly 30 cattle — including five different breeds of prized purebred cattle – at far below market prices to support the students. The Lynden school barn constructed on school district property adjacent to the high school serves as an agriculture-based classroom where high school students learn about many kinds of animals, including dairy cows, and about careers in agriculture.

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Calf care in groups & automated feeders produce healthy milking cows

Special barns keep calves warm, fed and healthy

Milking cow care and well-being is at the top of every dairy farmer’s list, and it starts with taking good care of calves. Newborn calves are cared for by well trained farm managers, and are housed individually, in pairs or in groups of typically no more than 25. While individual dome structures (“igloos”) are used for single calves or pairs, groups of calves are now housed in custom, ventilated calf barns with thick straw for warmth. Automated, computer-driven feeders prepare calves for a healthy, productive future.

Roger and Jackie Blok care for 600 milking cows and 70 calves on RJ Blok & Sons Dairy near Lynden. When they were preparing to build a new calf barn, they attended workshops, read current research on calf development, viewed videos and visited several dairy farms before moving ahead with their own calf barn and automated feeding system.

“We designed the calf barn for maximum ventilation, including side curtains and extra straw for ‘nesting,’ to keep the calves warm and comfortable. We provide calf jackets for them when the temperature drops below 50 degrees,” says fourth generation dairy farmer Roger Blok. “The computerized, automated feeder system delivers just the right amount of milk to each calf by reading a computer chip that we place on a necklace-type collar.”

RJ Blok & Sons Dairy is on the leading edge of calf and dairy cow care. While the group calf housing helps newborns socialize, the computerized feeder system allows the Bloks to monitor every calf by drinking speed and consumption of milk during each feeding. Computerized monitoring allows farmers to identify disease sooner and develops better socialization for improved matriculation into the adult dairy herd.

Roger helped design a 52′ X 204′ ventilated pole barn, divided into six groups of 22 calves; and installed an automated calf feeding system for each group. The automated feeder and aspects of the custom calf barn were based on his research; by observing a similar barn on his brother’s dairy farm in Whatcom County; and by visiting a research farm in Agassiz, British Columbia.

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Farmers grow cover crops for feed, soil health & to protect water quality

Cover crop fields also provide trumpeter swan habitat.

Cover crops such as grass, grain, corn, legume, clover and winter rye, planted during fall and winter, provide feed for farm animals and build soil health and fertility while protecting water quality. During the winter months, soil is not as well protected by plants and becomes vulnerable to run off, erosion and compaction. When farmers plant a cover crop, its root system will both hold the soil in place and help penetrate heavy-textured soils to allow for better air and water circulation.

In Whatcom County, more farmers are recognizing the value of cover crops between periods of regular crop production to prevent soil erosion and to improve field soil fertility and soil structure for better yields. Cover crops also prevent nutrient and sediment losses from fields, which is beneficial in maintaining water quality.

Additionally, dairy farmers can harvest the cover or relay crop for feed before they plant a spring crop such as corn. “Cover crops provide many benefits to our dairy farm by providing a valuable source of feed for our heifers and milking cows,” says Leroy Plagerman, who owns/manages Bel-Lyn Farms near Lynden and serves on the Darigold Inc. board of directors. “Because we apply appropriate manure nutrients — calibrated by the gallon-per-acre — we improve soil structure, increase production and prevent leaching into groundwater.”

As a cover crop matures, it begins to absorb nutrients left over from manure fertilizer into its plant tissues. The nutrients are now stored until spring. When the cover crop is cut and tilled back into the soil, it decomposes and those nutrients will become available to the new spring planting.

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Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.

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