The Heltzels -- 2012 PA Dairy Beef Quality Assurance
It’s June Dairy Month in the Commonwealth and to celebrate, we shine the Quality Care Matters spotlight on Andrew and Jennifer Heltzel, 2012 Pennsylvania Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Award winners from Blair County. Honored at the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association Banquet in March for their achievements, the couple now will represent the Commonwealth in national competition.
Andrew and Jennifer both graduated from Delaware Valley College in May 1998, with degrees in Dairy Science, and married that July. They began operating Andrew’s parents’ dairy by purchasing the cows and equipment, and renting the land.
In 2001, the Heltzels began expanding their dairy herd. An older 60-cow tie stall barn was remodeled for milking purposes and 55 free stalls were built in an adjoining structure, growing the herd to 65 animals from the initial 40 cows. Andrew and Jennifer also started purchase of the farm land. In 2002, heifer facilities were renovated and a green house for calves was constructed. In 2006, with facilities maxed out, Piney Mar Farm began a major expansion, building a 125-cow free stall barn and swing 12 parlor.
In 2009, after a fire destroyed the dry cow housing and feed mixing barn, the couple built a new dry cow/transition cow barn and feed mixing barn.
Today, Piney Mar Farm is comprised of 130 milk cows that produce more than three million pounds of milk annually. They also raise 125 young heifers that will be herd replacements. This year, additional heifer facilities are being renovated to house 130 heifers. Next year, the Heltzels plan to increase their herd to 150 milking animals.
During the past 14 years, the herd average at Piney Mar Farm has increased from 20,000 pounds per cow to 25,000, with an average somatic cell count of 100,000. They’ve also doubled the herd size in the last five years with minimal cow purchases. The Heltzels attribute that success to the operation’s emphasis on cow care and environment and beef quality assurance (BQA) management practices.
While Jennifer says that she’s always been aware of the term BQA from conferences and articles, her real learning began when she joined the Beef Council as a director, two years ago, representing the dairy industry. “When I think about what I’ve learned about beef quality during the last two years and how much I didn't know before, I am amazed,” says Jennifer. “And that’s what I share with other dairy farmers. Even though we sell milk every day, we hope to ultimately sell our cows for beef. The practices we follow and the decisions we make today, will impact the quality of that animal we want to sell tomorrow,” Jennifer explains.
The Heltzels’ experience with BQA forced them to review how they handle their animals, what injections they give and also when they market their animals. As a result, they’ve made changes to their daily management practices. “This year, it’s my goal to work on identifying and writing down our treatment protocols,” notes Jennifer. “Things that have always been in my head need to be on paper because I know it’s required of us and it’s important.”
Jennifer says that she also is much more aware of where she administers any shots, and the shots’ long term ramifications.
“I think the biggest change we have made though is choosing to proactively, instead of reactively, cull cows. We carefully evaluate what that one final lactation will do to our six, seven and eight year-old cows before we breed them back,” says Jennifer. “In the past, the mind set was to keep and treat every cow. While many older cows were able to be milked for an extra lactation, we also lost many cows to death or they were marketed in less than optimal condition,” she explains.
Piney Mar Farm developed new protocols, after identifying the reasons for cow loss. For example, animals with long days in milk were being rebred. As a result, the Heltzels determined which animals were to be rebred and when to stop breeding animals. As they’ve implemented those protocols, they’ve experienced a reduction in the number of animals calving and transitioning to the milking herd with mineral and metabolic problems. As a another consequence of the guidelines, herd cull rate has increased from 25% to 35% too. However, the animals now are culled optimally, at the end of their lactation, in prime condition, instead of post calving in poor health and body condition. Drug treatment of animals, during the post fresh period, has decreased because animals are calving in with more ideal body condition scores.
The Heltzels are committed to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry. Jennifer is a board member with the Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE), the PA Beef Council, and the PA BQA Commission. “As producer driven groups, the passion that farmers bring to these boards is a true blessing for Pennsylvania agriculture,” Jennifer says. “While each group deals with slightly different issues, cooperation and communication between them is very important as we try to serve dairy and beef farmers.”
Jennifer notes that a great example of industry cooperation is the recent CDE cow side forums. Nichole Hockenberry, Director of BQA, and Dr. David Wolfgang, Field Studies Director Extension Veterinarian, taught dairy producers about injection site lesions. “Because of the success of those programs, more cooperative trainings are being planned for the future and I am pleased,” she says.
To learn more about dairy beef quality assurance, visit the BQA website, at www.pa-bqa.org, or contact Nichole Hockenberry, at firstname.lastname@example.org.