Got milk? Penn Vet helps animal farmers get more from healthy herds

On one of the first bitter cold December mornings last fall, Joe Bender’s workday started at Summit Level farm, a nearly 100-year-old dairy owned and run by Jim and Joey Hertzler. The brothers are regular clients of Bender and the Penn Vet Center for Animal Health and Productivity (CAHP). 

A cow with an ear tag
One member of the milking herd at Summit Level Farm. (Photo: Penn Vet News)

Located in Elverson, Pennsylvania, the farm supports three families with 100 Holsteins; it’s one of the most successful dairies of its size in Pennsylvania. But never ones to rest on success, the Hertzlers are always considering areas to refine. CAHP, which Penn Vet established in 1986 as a teaching, research, and service initiative to improve health and productivity in food animal herds and flocks, has become a regular go-to resource for them.

“We used to bring in dairy consultants. They’d get to the farm and would ask, ‘Why do you want to do better? Your cows are fine. Your business is doing well. You’re in the top 10 percent of Pennsylvania herds. Just leave it alone,’” says Joey.

The consultants’ laissez-faire attitude didn’t sit well with the Hertzlers and it doesn’t satisfy Bender, assistant professor of clinical dairy production medicine at New Bolton Center, whom the farmers first met nearly eight years ago. “CAHP’s philosophy is that you never stop trying to do or get better,” he says. “There is always an opportunity to improve some aspect of the dairy, either animal performance, health, or environment, or, maybe most importantly, the health of the entire farm.”

The Hertzlers’ farm, Bender said, is a model—the herd averages 105 pounds of milk per cow per day, where an average Pennsylvania herd makes 70 pounds. It’s not by accident. “Jim and Joey’s openness to troubleshooting issues and continually looking for opportunities to do better is what puts them now in the top one percent of Pennsylvania farms with fewer than 200 cows,” he says. “Every year, we bring students out here to understand successful production.”

Read more at Penn Vet News.