The best part of interviewing Kelly Callahan was that he didn’t have time for an interview. It’s true. Besides owning and managing a dairy that milks 2600 cows near Royal City, Washington, Callahan also farms a bunch of ground, and it was time to chop corn. So of course, sitting still for an interview with All West during fall harvest time was not something that could be scheduled. But that was the beauty of the whole interview. Kelly, like many other dairy producers, doesn’t have time. He doesn’t have time to walk through his cows every day looking for heats. He doesn’t have time to check temperatures on every cow in his fresh pen. He doesn’t even have time to do preventative health observations.
And while I was riding along in the Claas chopper, I just kept thinking that this system was designed specifically for busy guys like Kelly Callahan.
The CowManager system started out as a trial at Callahan Dairy. A neighbor had originally intended to put the system in, but never got around to it, so Kelly decided to give it a try. “Having the ability to try CowManager first was a huge selling point. It’s a hard thing to swallow when a salesman comes in and claims to have a great new product that will cost xxx, but you’re just supposed to believe it will work. With this system, we got to see it in action. We now have all the cows and dry cows tagged, which equates to nearly 3000 eartags.”
“Probably one of the biggest benefits we see with this system is the ability to eliminate Ov-Synch programs. With the way regulations are coming at us at a pretty rapid pace, we don’t know how long we could keep doing Ov-Synch, and now we don’t worry about it. CowManager catches cows in heat every time. I wasn’t sure I believed the reports early on, but I do now. The other thing that’s huge for us is that we don’t have near as many cows dying. We have time to treat them and get them back into production so much quicker with CowManager. There used to be one team member checking on cows every morning and treating them. But in the afternoons, no one was checking, and therefore, cows went undetected for longer periods of time before being treated the next morning. We have a great crew of guys working at the dairy, but having this system is like having one more set of eyes and ears on the dairy, 24 hours a day.”
“In addition, heat detection is really simple now. The system finds about 1/3 more heats than normal, and is especially good at catching the silent-heat type cows. It has also eliminated our need to check temps on fresh cows too, so that saves time and money. At any time of the day, you can look on the computer and tell what’s going on with our herd. You can see the cows that need attention, whether that means they need to be bred, or they just don’t feel good. You can go immediately to those cows first, and then spend time walking and looking at the rest of the groups.”
By using CowManager, the Callahans have also reduced days open from 130 down to 108.
For a man who’s only been in the dairy industry 18 years, Kelly, and his wife Lorna, have accomplished a lot. Growing up on a turf farm and learning the valuable trade of welding at an early age, Kelly’s family was deeply involved in other segments of agriculture that also included a successful hay business, and to this day, the extended family still operates a welding shop, a construction company, a hay export business and several orchards.
After graduating from high school, Callahan went to Texas on a missions trip and came back to find that the family purchased some heifers to feed their excess hay to. Because he was the family member that most cared about animals, he naturally fell into the caretaker roll. And as we can all appreciate, those initial heifers got bred, calved, and then found themselves as the base for Kelly’s new dairy.
“We purchased an old facility to start out in, and worked with that set-up for 10 years or so. We are building a brand new barn at our current facility that we’re constructing ourselves. The good news is we can design it the way we think it will work best, but it’s not getting completed as fast as we’d like because we don’t always have time to work on it!”
But here’s the thing with Callahan. He wasn’t raised on a dairy, so changes in technology and management and breeding almost come easy to him because he can’t fall back on the old cliché, “we’ve always done it that way.” He’s open to new ideas and to new ways of doing things. And when it comes to making changes on the dairy, his “try it and see” attitude is pretty refreshing. Granted, he demands results from these trials, and always has a goal in mind that he wants to accomplish.
For instance, Kelly will be quick to tell you that genetics pay the bills, so any dairyman, regardless of size, should make time to study genetics and pay attention to their herds. “I like to pick the bulls that we use on this dairy,” he explained. “You need to stay in touch with the thing that’s going to give you the best return on investment. Yes, it takes time, but you make time to do it. Don’t leave it up to someone who doesn’t have your best, owner-interests at heart.” On average, Kelly will pick out about 25 bulls to use at a time and doesn’t like to change them around too fast. Currently his Holstein herd is bred by Net Merit qualifications, while his Jersey herd uses a self-created index involving JUI (at least +20) and CFP.
He says he’s “changing my cows to match my feeding program, which means I want cows who can use a higher percentage of forage in their ration and a lower percentage of grain, not only keeping my feed costs down, but creating cows that are efficient and will work.”
For a guy who never milked a cow before, his 18-year journey in the dairy industry has been sprinkled with risks, hard work, new technology, and a great sense of satisfaction.
As for his feelings on CowManager, he simply says, “We would definitely install this system all over again, because if we didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have a crew left on the dairy! It pays for itself and it does make you money. We wouldn’t be without it!”
It happens to the best of us! Farming sometimes demands our time more than the cows do, and that challenge was part of the reason Kelly Callahan wanted to check out the CowManager system. Since installing the system, Kelly now has another set of “eyes” monitoring his herd 24 hours a day, seven days a week.