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Farm raises heifers for farmers who can't

July 29, 2000

Farm raises heifers for farmers who can't



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


LURGAN TOWNSHIP, Pa. - Tri-State dairy farmers who don't have the time to raise their own heifers can now turn to a commercial operation to do the job for them.

Lane Sollenberger, a former Franklin County dairy farmer, since May has been managing the new Agway TSPF Heifer Service, which is still under construction on a 160-acre farm in Lurgan Township in northern Franklin County.

TSPF stands for Test Specific Pathogen Free, or tested disease free.

The Agway facility is the first commercial venture of its kind in Pennsylvania, said Scott Davenport, project manager for the farm. The company has three others in New York state.

The first calf came to Agway's farm May 8. She will be returned to her owner 21 months later, bred and ready to start producing milk two months after that.

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Dairy cows have to be bred once a year to produce milk. They produce for about 300 days, then go dry for 60 days.

When Agway is fully operational by the end of 2001, it will raise up to 3,600 heifers at one time in a series of open barns designed to accommodate the animals' needs as they grow.

It's a common practice among some dairy farmers to pay someone to raise their heifers, said Phil Wagner, dairy specialist at the Franklin County Cooperative Association office in Chambersburg, Pa.

"It gives them more time to devote to the part of their farm operation that makes money - their milking herd," Wagner said.

A handful of Franklin County farms raise calves for other farmers, Wagner said.

One of the largest is the We-Kings Farm on Guitner Road near Greencastle, Pa., Wagner said.

Co-owner James King said he raises about 200 heifers a year for two area farmers exclusively. He said his operation will soon increase to about 300 animals to accommodate herd expansions planned by his customers.

$1.78 per day

King charges $1.78 cents a day to raise each heifer, a price he said is competitive with the $1,134 Agway will charge its customers to raise a calf from three days to 21 months. King said he only accepts weaned calves, usually between 4 and 6 months old.

Agway will spend $5.1 million building its new facility, Davenport said. It will have eight employees. About 45 of the 160 acres are dedicated to the calf-raising operation. The rest will go into crops to feed the animals, he said.

Each calf that arrives at Agway is washed, weighed, measured, vaccinated and given a blood test and two yellow ear tags.

The calves are kept in one of six 48-stall wet pen barns for the first six weeks. Each is fed formula twice a day. The next six weeks are spent in the weaning or transition barn.

At 12 weeks, they move into free-stall growing barns with 120 animals per pen. When it's time, the heifers are moved to another barn for breeding, followed by a final stay in a finishing barn before being sent back home.

Agway is a confined animal feeding operation and as such must meet tough federal and state waste removal standards.

The system was designed much like a public sewer system. A single collection system links the barns and sends the manure into collection ponds where liquids are separated from solids.

The farm uses an aeration system that enables it to recycle the water so it can be reused. Solids go into a composting operation, the end product of which is coveted by area farmers to spread over their crops, Davenport said.

Agway started its first commercial heifer-raising facility in New York state in December 1998, he said. The company has since opened two others in New York.

"I don't know if this operation saves any money, but it doesn't cost any more," Sollenberger said.

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