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Although veteran Mississippi dairyman and university professor Bill McGee sold off his milking operation several years ago, he and family members continue to raise high quality Holstein cows for a north Mississippi dairy operation. At any given time, the McGee farm near Starkville, Miss., will have about 400 animals, ranging from young calves to two-year-old heifers.
Raises cows for dairy partnership
“The acreage at Heritage Dairy wasn’t really large enough to support a herd that size,” Bill says, “and Darren was now limited in the time he could devote to the dairy. So, after David and I sold our dairy operation, we divided the 700 acres of land here and later worked out an agreement to raise dairy animals for the partnership dairy.
“When baby calves are born at Heritage Dairy, they are brought to our farm and put in individual pens. David and his daughter, Kelli, who are now both enrolled in nursing school, care for the penned calves until they’re approximately three months old, after which they go on ryegrass pasture, with some supplemental grain.”
At about 15 months of age, they are bred via artificial insemination, and when they’re two years old, just prior to calving, they’re moved back to Heritage Dairy. When their calves are born, they’re returned to the McGee farm to continue the cycle.
The system results in a constant turnover, Bill says, and there will be about 400 animals on Mactoc Farm at any given time.
“The heavy calving season starts in September, and we usually have ryegrass available when the calves are taken out of their pens, but because of the unusually dry fall we’ve had this year, the grass still wasn’t up to a stand at mid-October.”
He plants Marshall ryegrass, which he says is an excellent forage producer, with a longer season than Gulf ryegrass.
When heifers are old enough to breed, they are segregated out and put on hay and supplemental feed until they’re pregnant, after which they’re turned onto ryegrass.
Most of their hay is grown on the farm, and Bill says they will put up about 1,000 bales in a season. “We use a Claas round baler, which has an attachment that covers bales in plastic wrap. This prevents weather deterioration and helps preserve the quality and nutritional value of the hay.”
“Heritage Dairy does a certain amount of culling to improve herd genetics,” Bill says. “Surplus animals are sold to other dairies for production purposes — hopefully, that can occur when when prices are good.”
With sexed semen now available, he notes, it’s possible to breed for better than 90 percent females.
“In the past, bulls were selected for their pedigree, but that didn’t necessarily mean their daughters would be good milk producers. Of every 20 bulls sampled, only about one was adequate for AI service.