GRAVETTE -- Gravette dairy farmers recently hosted a group of forage specialists from the southeastern United States during their three-day visit to the University of Arkansas for a conference. About 40 of the agriculturists visited the Bill and Delia Haak Farm south of Gravette Tuesday, May 15. Visitors came from Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, Texas A & M University, The Noble Foundation, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Missouri, University of Puerto Rico, University of Tennessee, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA-NRCS.
Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science at the U of A, explained that the Southern Pasture and Forage Crop Improvement Conference rotates annually from one state to another. Last year's conference was at Knoxville, Tenn. Conference format features a day of talks about forage production and sustainability topics, a half-day field trip and another day of talks, usually tailored to the host state.
Other guests at the Haak Farm were Stan Rose, an engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Kristen Michaels, from the Benton County Conservation District; James Burk, U of A program technician with Crop, Soil and Environmental Science; and Karl VanDevender, U of A professor and Extension engineer. VanDevender said the group chose to make their field trip to the Haak Farm because it is one of the largest of the 55 dairies left in the state. Most Arkansas dairies tend to be pretty small, seldom milking over 100 to 120 cows, and the Haak dairy has a 200-cow capacity. The owners have also become known for their progressive management practices and good environmental awareness.
Haak welcomed the visitors and gave a brief history of the dairy. He said he had been in dairying 39 years, beginning with his early years in Phoenix, Ariz. He and Delia have been married 42 years. They bought the Gravette farm four years ago and moved there in 2015 from Gentry. When the Haaks first discussed buying the farm, Delia agreed to the deal if it could be done within a specified budget. Because of the budget constraints, Haak built his 11-stall barn with all trusses and tin and many purlins coming from old chicken houses. His grain bin and elevator were also used.
Haak is currently milking about 140 cows. Milking times at the Haak dairy are 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Each cow is given 15 pounds of grain per milking. He mixes his own grain, using cottonseed, soybeans he grows and roasts himself, and nutritionally-balanced grain pellets. Holding time in the entry lane and milk barn is approximately two hours.
His pastures are planted in Greenfield Bermuda and BMR Rocket Sudangrass, a variety that is amazingly palatable. Cows even eat the stalk, Haak says. As the nutrient content of the cool season grasses lowers each spring, the Bermuda grass takes over. Sudan is planted in early May and the cows are turned in when it's about knee-high, usually about the first of June, and graze there until mid-September. Rotational grazing is practiced, with cattle moved between 11 pastures. Seven were being grazed the day of the tour. Haak says he harvested 500 big round bales of hay off 240 acres last year. He rents and owns 120 acres elsewhere where he grows his no-till soybeans.
The Haak Farm has recently become an Arkansas Discovery Farm. Discovery Farms are privately owned businesses on which water quality research is being conducted. The Discovery Farms program is geared toward monitoring and evaluating water quality of runoff from various agricultural production systems. Karl VanDevender emphasized that the University Division of Agriculture focuses on teamwork. The Discovery Farms are farmer-led. Both the U of A partners and the farmers desire to be good environmental stewards.
VanDevender says he specializes in manure management. He tries hard to always remember to call it manure or byproducts rather than waste because, ideally, nothing is wasted. Absolutely every bit of manure on the Haak Farm is used as a resource to go into the ground and provide nutrients to produce forage which, when eaten, will produce more milk. Haak's records show his milk production has more than doubled since he set up this system.
The entry lane to the dairy barn is spread with sawdust, providing better traction for the cows and absorbing moisture from their droppings. Haak owns his own sawdust business and hauls it in from about eight miles away. The dry matter is scraped out and stacked in a pair of open-air structures nearby, each of which must be emptied about every 45 days. After further drying, it is all spread on the pastures.
Wash water from the dairy barn is directed into a basin, designed by Stan Rose, where any remaining solids are filtered out and the liquid flows through a screen and drains into a trench that directs it downhill and out across the pasture. Water either evaporates or infiltrates the ground.
The farm's water supply comes through the rural water system that serves the area. Cattle pastures are monitored with water meters. To better quantify water use, additional meters were added for milk barn wash water, cattle drinking water and human use in the bathroom at the barn. As the U of A studies water-quality issues, VanDevender says the farmers are a critical part of the plan "because who knows the farm better than the person who's on it every day?"
Haak says he is still learning from the professionals, but he admits the learning goes both ways. Because of all the monitoring of his farm operations, researchers at the U of A, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Benton County Conservation District are also learning much from him.
"The pros don't come in to judge me, but they come to help me. We have a very special relationship. Thanks to careful preplanning, we did it all right."
Illustrating his progressive attitude, Haak says he always welcomes suggestions to make his operation better. He is always thinking of the best interests of his family and his farm.General News on 06/07/2018
Print Headline: Gravette Dairy Farmers Host Southeastern Forage Specialists