County’s milk output up 7 percent 
Per-farm production has doubled since 1996
Bruce Alsobrook | News-Telegram Editor

Dec. 5, 2006 - In the mid 1990s, the lament was heard ‘round the county: The dairy industry was on its last legs, lying on its deathbed, about to go out without a whimper, much less a bang.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral — the patient stabilized.

This year, the dairy industry in Hopkins County has not only shown signs of stability, but even improvement, with production a full 7 percent ahead of last year’s pace.

Through October, the county’s dairy farmers had marketed almost 489 million pounds of milk, or about 30 million pounds more than through the first 10 months of 2005. Even at the low Class IV milk price of $11.51, that’s an additional $345,300 in revenue this year, or about $2,600 per farm.

Hopkins County is no longer the land of 500 dairies — the latest count is at 134 — but the ones that remain are bigger, stronger, and putting out a lot more milk than their counterparts of yesteryear.

It wasn’t that many years ago, Hopkins County Agriculture Extension Agent Spradlin recalled, when getting 40 pounds of milk a day from one cow was a pretty good yield.

�Nowadays, if a farmer�s not getting an 80-pound average, they�re thinking something�s wrong,� Spradlin said.

But how could an industry that based its success largely on the ability to grow its own forage in this area survive, even thrive, after such a prolongued drought? Blame it on science, especially free-stall barns.

�It appears the open stall barns and cooling systems are working,� Spradlin said. �The genetics have improved and the nutrition has improved, but keeping the cows cool has really helped production.�

Free-stall barns, which house dairy cattle in pens but in a covered, ventilated area, are hardly a new concept but have gained in popularity in the region in recent years.

The drawback to the concept is obvious — it costs more to build a free-stall barn than to let cattle roam on the open range.

But the benefit is greater comfort for the cow, including less stress from heat and humidity, one of the killers of milk production.

�We�ve probably got more cows in open cooling barns than anyplace else,� Spradlin said.

Increasing cow comfort also goes a long way toward keeping cows healthy. A study in Central Texas by a Texas A&M University Extension Dairy Specialist found culling rates decreased about 12 percentage points after moving into freestall facilities, while body weight of culled cows increased as much as 10 percent.

The gains in production this year aren’t the only sign of a more stable dairy industry.

Even though the number of farms has fallen dramatically over the past decade, the production decline hasn’t been nearly as severe. In fact, per-farm production has more than doubled.

The 342 dairies operating in Hopkins County in October 1996 pumped out 55 million pounds of milk that month, an average of 161,671 pounds per farm. In October of this year, 134 farms produced 45 million pounds, or an average of 337,521 pounds per farm.

Translation: Fewer farms operating with more cows at increased efficiency.

�It�s a different kind of look these days,� said Spradlin, referring to the time when farms with less than 100 head were the norm, adding that while there are fewer farms today, �the numbers of cows have remained relatively steady.�

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