Burnett’s Dairy: Wyoming family runs successful dairy
Carpenter – Each year, June celebrates National Dairy Month and the producers who work hard to bring tasty dairy products to the table everyday. From their operation near Carpenter in southeast Wyoming, Burnett’s Dairy works hard to contribute Grade A milk to the market.
Burnett’s Dairy is run by Jeff Burnett, his wife Kim and brother Jay. Jeff’s children, Layne, 8, and Reese, 11, also help out.
“This was bare ground in 1998,” says Burnett, adding that they built a feedlot and started custom feeding cattle later that year.
“We started milking cows at a small dairy in Colorado in 2004. We moved to Carpenter in September 2005, so it’s been six years now,” says Burnett.
Burnett didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, but rather a cow/calf ranch in Colorado. His grandparents, however, had a dairy farm.
“Now, we’re irrigated farmers, feeders and in the dairy business,” says Burnett.
Burnett’s Dairy owns about 3,000 cows that circulate through the milking parlor three times every day.
“My mom’s parents got up to 60 cows in their operation,” says Burnett. “They couldn’t fathom that we were going to milk 2,500 or 3,000 cows.”
“We also have a full replacement herd, so there are 2,500 to 3,000 replacement heifers on feed at all times, plus whatever we have for beef cattle in the feedlot. That’s a lot of beating hearts,” says Burnett.
For the Burnetts, a typical day doesn’t exist.
“First thing in the morning, I have to get everyone organized,” says Burnett. “But there are different tasks planned for each day.”
“On Mondays my wife goes out with the ultrasound crew. Wednesday we have a hedging meeting where we look at margin control and commodities and lock in our feed prices. Thursday I breed cows, and Friday we have meetings with our consulting veterinarian and nutritionist,” says Burnett.
The hands-on nature of the operation keeps Burnett and his family very tied to the farm.
“I think the most unique aspect of our operation is that we are in our cows a lot. We are so hands on. You get busy with paperwork, financing and government regulations, and it’s hard to stay caught up with the production side of things. Our milk cows are still our number one profit center, so one day a week I’m in the cows. Every Thursday, no matter what, I still go and AI cows.”
“We also farm about 3,500 irrigated acres and do some custom feeding,” says Burnett.
Burnett’s Dairy is a self-sufficient operation, complete with milking parlor, feedlots, recycling facility and feed mill.
As cows leave their pens, they head to the milking parlor, which operates 24 hours a day. The double 35 parallel stanchions allow 70 cows to be milked at a time, explains Burnett.
The milking procedure is complicated, starting with an iodine dip to kill any bacteria on the udder. Next, cows are fore-stripped and dried, and each cow is dried with a clean towel to ensure sanitation. Fore-stripping allows Burnett’s crew to check for mastitis, stimulates oxytocin let-down and milk production. An automatic take-off milking machine milks each cow, and computerization allow Burnett to know and record how much milk each cow produces.
“Every cow wears a computer chip on their neck with a number. The computer records how much milk each cow produces at every milking,” he explains.
After the cow has been milked, an iodine-based post-dip is used. This dip has various lotions, and is specific for the weather.
“We have one for if its cold or muddy. Or if its really cold, we just use a powder, and we need to make sure there’s enough to make a little droplet on the end of the teat, because it takes about 15 minutes for the orifice to completely close,” says Burnett.
The milk runs through pipes powered by vacuum pumps and through filters, then it is flash cooled to below 40 degrees and stored in large tanks.
“The cows milk about 70 to 80 pounds a day, so that equates to about 220,000 pounds of milk a day. We produce about 4.5 semi-loads of milk every day,” says Burnett.
“We also test every load of milk before it goes for antibiotics. All milk is antibiotic-free. It is also tested for antibiotics three to five more times after it leaves,” he adds.
Every time the cows are milked their pens are completely flushed and cleaned to remove all debris. The wastewater goes through a recycling facility to settling ponds, and the recycled water either goes to pivots for irrigating fields or to flush out the pens again. Manure is composted and blown into pens once a week as clean bedding.
The cows in the dairy herd are kept primarily in barns, and later lactation cows go outside to open lots until 60 days before they calve, after which they’re moved back indoors to the close-up pen.
Calves are taken to a calf ranch at one day old and heifers return at 150 days and will start milking at two years old.
“After calving, cows go to the fresh pen,” says Burnett. “The first 10 days after they calve, we have a stethoscope on their side and rumen, and we have a thermometer in them.”
Burnett’s passion for his operation is apparent in the care he takes with his animals, and herd health is top priority.
“We have top-quality feed and we consistently monitor cow comfort,” says Burnett.
“One of the things a little different about the dairy industry is that we monitor our cows on an individual basis. When that cow needs to be vaccinated, we vaccinate. We don’t vaccinate the whole herd at the same time,” he explains.
The operation’s customized feed plan is determined with a consulting nutritionist. Feed rations include a variety of ingredients, from flaked corn and soybean meal to beet pulp, cottonseed and minerals, and is mixed in the feed mill on site.
Burnett’s brother Jay runs the feed mill, where a stationary mixer in one corner is attached to a computer that tells the loader operator what to put in. The computer also adds eight different ingredients, microbes and two liquid ingredients.
At the end of the whole process, Burnett’s Dairy produces milk that goes to both cheese factories and milk processing plants. The operation runs smoothly, but it’s a very demanding job, says Burnett.
“The scary thing is that every day, we single file 9,000 cows, and it doesn’t matter whether its 40 below or if the wind is blowing 60 miles per hour, you still have to show up, somehow,” says Burnett.
The demanding nature of the job means not many people want to run dairies anymore, explains Burnett.
“Those of us who do have to milk a lot of cows,” says Burnett. “It’s how we keep milk prices down and keep cheap food in America.”
“If we want these cows to take care of our family, we take care of the cows,” says Burnett. “We take the responsibility to do a good job. We’re feeding America, and our family’s priority is to make a top quality food product.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.