May 2006
Featured Articles

Lamar County Dairy Farmers Plan for the Future

  Lamar County dairy farmers David Gilmer and his son, Will.
by Susie Sims

Planning for the future is a way of life at the Gilmer Dairy Farm in Lamar County.

Members of the Gilmer family are always looking for ways to expedite the process of milking cows.

David Gilmer and his son, Will, have recently made several improvements to their half-century old dairy. These improvements will hopefully pave the way for a smoother running operation that is more profitable than ever.

The farm, which is located a few miles south of Sulligent, is in its fifth generation in the family. The dairy is in its third generation in the Gilmer family.

David and Will each have degrees from Mississippi State University. They both earned agricultural engineering technology and business degrees.

David graduated in 1977 while Will finished in 2001.

David puts his engineering degree to good use around the farm. He likes to take machinery or equipment that is past its prime and convert it into something practical.

For instance, he took an old fertilizer spreader buggy and transformed it into a hydraulically-driven fertilizer tender that he used to transport fertilizer to his planter in the field.

Then it was converted into a feed storage apparatus with a hand crank to dispense the feed.

Normally, a hand crank would be too hard to turn with two tons of feed in the modified buggy. Because the buggy was originally designed to spread fertilizer, David made used of the baffle system to keep the weight off the chain, making it easy to operate the hand crank.
Recent Improvements

AFC feed salesman John Sims (left) turns the crank on a modified feed storage buggy that dairyman David Gilmer converted from an old fertilizer buggy.  
In order to keep the farm modern and competitive, the Gilmers constructed a new barn in 2005. It is equipped with a double 10 rapid exit system.

As its name implies, this new system will accommodate 10 cows on each side for milking and allows the cows to exit the area at the same time rather than single file.

Gilmer noted this new system is quite a bit faster than the double two system his father had early on.

"But even that was an improvement on hand milking," said Gilmer, who recalled that his father started the dairy in the mid 1950s with four or five cows that had to be hand milked.

Prior to the new double 10 system, the Gilmers used a double six herringbone.

The Gilmers have a 5200-gallon tank system to store the milk, which is picked up every other day.

In addition to the new milking facility, another major project for the farm is the construction of a new waste management system.

  Will Gilmer separates heifers in a pen
"We’re building a slurry storage tank that has 120 days worth of storage," said Gilmer. "We will incorporate the waste into our fertilization practices."

The new system, while it may be more difficult to construct than a lagoon, will pay off immediately with its ease of management.

The tank itself will outlast any lagoon that could be constructed on the property. An added benefit will be the low maintenance of the tank compared to what it would take to keep up a lagoon.
Maximum Productivity

Will uses his recent education to track herd records. He crunches the numbers and plans accordingly.

He keeps up with such figures as the amount of feed ingredients fed per head per day, the number of replacement heifers and where they are, breeding data, milk productivity, and soil test analyses.

Keeping track of the farm’s records helps to streamline the entire process.

One way to maximize productivity is to group the farm’s 220 Holstein cows into smaller lots.

"We divide the herd into groups, according to production," said Will.

The highest producing cows are grouped together as are those that are late in lactation—those that have been in production for some time.

This grouping of the cows allows the Gilmers to feed according each group’s needs.

The Gilmers feed for maximum productivity at all times. The higher producing cows benefit from more feed or changes in formulation. The Gilmers benefit by reducing the total amount of feed given to the lower producing cows, thereby reducing their overall feed costs.
Part of the Equation

As with most farms, dairy cows are only part of the family farm equation. The Gilmers grow 250 acres of corn and 80 acres of oats that they will chop or bale and wrap.

"We experiment with baleage products," said Gilmer. "We are always looking for something that works better."

Gilmer has tried many different ways to bale and wrap various forage products. Some were more successful than others.

He has tried forage soybeans, wheat, oats, Bermuda grass, and rye grass.

This experimentation has a practical application. Gilmer is looking for an alternative to corn silage, due to rising input costs.

The Gilmers use silage, baleage or hay as part of their total mixed ration for their herd.

Gilmer noted that planning the feed for the herd takes top priority. It is always on his mind.

"It’s an everyday thing trying to plan ahead," said Gilmer. "You’ve got to plan your feed because it’s got to last until the next crop."

The Gilmers rely on the Fayette Farmers Co-op in neighboring Fayette County for many of their farming needs and services.

David’s wife, Lin, keeps the books for the farm. Will’s wife, Joni, teaches school in nearby Vernon.

The Gilmers employ four full-time workers and one part-time helper for the weekend.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.