Attention to little details pays big dividends at Burky Dairy

By Connie Lechlieitner

In the rolling hills of Tuscarawas County, Chad Burky continues a family dairy operation that now spans 6 generations with the addition of his son, Clayton. The family-run dairy was recognized in 2011 as one of the top 5% in the state in milk production, an achievement they’ve reached each of the past 8 years.

The Burkys herd consists of 500 cows in milk with 400 heifers, and they do so with no herdsman, but 10 full-time and four part-time workers, running two shifts.

Clayton Burky, who represents the sixth generation on the farm, poses with a heifer calf at the Burky Dairy.

“We average about 39,000 pounds of milk a day, milking most of the herd three times a day. A group of our top producers and fresh cows get milked four times per day,” Chad Burky said.

It is the details that have helped the farm become so successful. One of the first elements Burky mentioned in the farm’s success was cow comfort.

“Cows produce more when they are not stressed, so we do all we can to keep them happy and healthy,” Burky said. “We start with automated fans and sprinklers in the lots, and we have free stalls that we bed with sand to keep the cows comfortable. We groom the stalls daily and bed them weekly.”

The Burkys’ 52-inch fans are set on thermostats to fire up when the temperature reaches 65 degrees in the milking cow barn and 70 degrees in the dry cow barn. Sprinklers activate at 70 degrees for a cycle of five minutes every 15 minutes, and if the temperature reaches 80 degrees, the interval shortens to five minutes every eight to 10 minutes.

As the dairy has expanded, the Burkys kept cow comfort in mind when they built new barns.

“In our dry cow barn, we constructed free stalls that are 52 inches wide, which are wider than the standard 48-inch stalls,” Burky said. “And in our pregnant cow barn, the stalls are 10 feet long. Our cows tend to be bigger than most of the dairies we’ve seen, so we’ve built our stalls to fit our animals to make sure our cows are comfortable.”

Another design element that keeps cow comfort in mind is the dairy’s feed bunks. The farm has poured U bunks that are four feet wide and 24 inches deep, which allow the Burkys to ensure that their cows have adequate bunk space.

“They’re higher than most feed bunks, and that allows us to feed from both sides,” Burky said. “The feed bunks are never empty, and we clean them daily.”

Plenty of fresh water and high quality forage also helps the herd maintain its high level of production.

“We run about 600 acres of hay and 300 acres of corn here,” Burky said. “We don’t produce any cash crops and use it all for the herd.”

The Burkys also placed Animat rubber mats in the milking parlor as well as in the holding pen where the cows wait to be milked.

“No cow is forced to stand more than two hours a day. During that time we still want them to be comfortable, so the mats help with that,” Burky said. “Cows also like consistency. We always milk at the same times every day and feed at the same times every day.”

Chad Burky handles the day-to-day operations with his wife, Michele, who is a dairy nutrition consultant for Cargill.

Another management tool that has contributed to the success of Burky Dairy is its meticulous attention to computerized records on each cow.

“We use an AFI system, and we also have a pedometer on each cow,” Burky said. “The pedometer tracks how many steps a cow takes each day, and since cows get more active when they come into heat, we can tell each cow’s heat cycle more easily. When a cow goes over a certain percentage of activity, the computer flags it and helps us monitor that cow more closely. And if we see a decrease in activity, the system also tells us when a cow may not be feeling well.”

In 2000, the Burkys remodeled an existing double-six milking parlor into a double-nine parlor.

“We went from a parallel design to a pari-bone design, and that allowed us to turn the cows at an angle,” Burky said. “The remodeled parlor has really allowed us to become more efficient. We had to narrow our pit a little bit to make room for our bigger cows, but it works.”

Cow flow was addressed during the redesign.

“We were concerned about cow flow, so we also widened our return alley,” Burky said. “We are able to milk 100 cows an hour with two milkers in the parlor and one person moving cows and grooming stalls.”

The parlor milks cows between the back legs, and each machine displays a number of statistics that are recorded by the AFI system. These include the amount of milk collected as well as conductivity, along with average time for that cow, average milk for that cow and current pounds of milk. The meter also alerts the milker if conductivity is higher or milk production is lower than that cow’s normal average. All meters are set for a maximum on time of 7.5 minutes, so that teat health is maximized.

“We can tell right away if a cow has a higher than normal somatic cell count, and can decide quickly to treat if we need to,” he said. “Our rolling herd average is about 27,900 pounds of milk per year. We averaged 934 pounds of fat, 807 pounds of protein and 121,000 somatic cell count for the last year. In fact, for the last couple of months, our somatic cell has averaged under 100,000.”

Their milking process normally takes about four and a half hours, and each day begins at 4 a.m. Despite the long hours and early mornings, several of the farm’s workers have been on the job for more than eight years. Burky credits the farm’s milkers as the reason for the dairy’s exceptional somatic cell count.

“Our workers really take pride in what they are doing, and they enjoy what they do,” Burky said. “They are always quick to tell us if they notice something that doesn’t look right.”

The farm has a standing appointment with the vet every Tuesday, during which anywhere from 60 to 70 cows might be seen or pregnancy checked and they keep up on foot care with trimming and foot baths.

The Burkys are working toward bigger cows that fit into their production system.

“Each cow gets evaluated on the computer, and we normally have two best choices to breed to,” Burky said. “We know that we tend to produce larger cows than the industry average, but for us, bigger cows mean bigger producers.”

The Burkys averaged 52% heifer calves born in 2011, and do not use sexed semen. The farm also has had a 2.6% death loss with its heifers, well below industry standards.

Today, Chad Burky handles the day-to-day operations with his wife, Michele, who is a dairy nutrition consultant for Cargill. Dad Gary Burky handles the bookkeeping, payroll and accounts payable functions and helps with the computerized recordkeeping.

Despite its many records and achievements, the Burkys feel there is still work to do.

“We just try to keep a low profile,” Burky said. “And worry about the little things.”



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