Phil and Merrill Gingerich and family operate a 200-cow plus family dairy near the Kosciusko and Elkhart County lines. They buy feed ingredients in bulk. And one of the lessons Merrill shared recently with visiting farmers had nothing to do with getting more pounds of milk or raising more corn, but a lot to do with staying up on changes in the industry, and making common-sense decisions when designing a farm structure. That will hold true whether it's feed storage room for dairy cattle or a new toolshed or shop.
They built a feed storage building for bulk commodities several years ago. Like many of these facilities, it is open to the east, but then features several bays, separated by concrete walls down low and wood walls higher up,. So that semis can back in and drop huge loads of commodities. In their case, that ranges from cottonseed meal to hay to chopped straw.
"We built the original feed structure with 12-foot wide bays," Gingerich says. "We thought those were plenty wide, but they're not. It doesn't give a semi a lot of wiggle room when backing in to unload, or when swinging doors to dump product."
Part of whether 12-foot is wide enough or not depends upon the semi truck driver, he laughs. They get a variety of drivers from time to time delivering product. Some can hit the opening and dump the product near the back, exactly where it's needed. Others have difficulty. "I've actually told a few to just dump it outside and I'll put it in myself with a loader," he quips.
So when they added on to the structure, with buys connected on the back side, open to the north, they decided to make the bays wider. Those approach 13.5 feet. It made the building slightly bigger, but it makes it easier for drivers to back in and dump, and have room to maneuver and work.
You read correctly above when we noted that one of the bays in the feed barn consists of chopped straw. It's for feed- not bedding. They purchase finely-shredded paper from a commercial paper company for bedding in free stalls. It's shipped in to them in large loads, usually every other week.
Chopped straw in the dairy cow diet is becoming more common says Mike Schutz, Purdue University dairy specialist. The idea is to feed a small amount so that it forms a mat of material on top of the digestive mass in the rumen, he says. That adds stability to the rumen, and is good for rumen health. Then the high-protein forages that pass through more quickly still provide animals with the nutrition they need.
The Gingerich family primarily uses the straw in dry cow rations, using up to 4 pound per head per day. They have used it in lactating rations before, but at much lower rates.