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Technology drives a Forest dairy operation
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A dairy farmer in Forest quadrupled the size of his herd and took advantage of technological innovations to give his production an edge in a financially tight industry.
Quinton Mills of Mills Dairy in Scott County recently completed construction on his expanded, state-of-the-art dairy facility. He went from milking about 100 cows four years ago to milking 400 today.
Making that increase in production meant he had to do some things differently.
Wesley Farmer, area Extension dairy specialist headquartered in Lincoln County, said Mills' dairy is the first commercial dairy farm in the state to use tunnel ventilation to cool cows. He installed a methane digester to produce electricity for his farm's use and made other improvements as well.
"Quinton Mills is an excellent example of a producer who started with almost nothing and worked hard to become a success," Farmer said. "Because of the increased size of his herd, he had to manage them differently than he had before."
In October, Mills decided to upgrade his facilities. Concrete was poured and a new dairy barn began to take shape. The new freestall barn holds about 400 cows.
The barn has spray nozzles built into the floor every 10 feet, and the floor itself is grooved and sloped. When the cows in one area are taken to be milked, a worker flips a switch and water from the on-site lagoon washes the floor automatically. The cleaning system was designed by AgriClean of Nashville.
"This was designed to self-clean the entire floor in eight sections," Mills said. "A high-pressure pump brings water out of the lagoon and washes the floor while the cows are out."
A second innovation was building the barn with a low roof, one open end and curtains on the side. Thirty-two fans were installed to pull air through the house, creating a tunnel-ventilated barn similar to those used to keep poultry houses cool.
A final high-tech improvement was buying and installing a methane digester to turn dairy waste into electricity for on-farm use. Mills said methane digesters, a product of research at the University of Florida, have been used on hog farms, but none had yet been installed at a dairy in Mississippi.
"It looks like a blue Harveststore silo, but you pump it full of manure and it starts to accumulate methane gas in the dome," Mills said. "This methane is used to run a generator, which produces electricity."
When the barn is washed out, water and debris move into a sand pit where the manure is separated and pumped into the tank. A boiler, run by methane gas from the manure, heats the manure to 95 degrees. Bacteria grow best at this temperature and release the most methane gas.
The gas is then captured and used to operate a generator. If more gas is produced than is needed to operate the generator, it is burned off.
"Our peak use is about 95 kilowatts, and there should be enough gas to operate a generator and produce more than enough electricity for the dairy," Mills said. "We have a traditional, gas-powered generator as a backup."
Waste solids that remain from the methane-generation process are moved to a concrete holding area, and can be spread on land as a fertilizer or possibly sold. Water goes back to the lagoon to be used again.
"New manure goes into the pit every time the barn is flushed," Mills said. "The pump has a float, and when the pit is raised to a certain level, the pump starts and fills the digester up again."
The Extension dairy specialist said Mills has built a dairy barn unlike anything else built in the state in the last 20 years. Farmer said the cooler dairy barn will keep the cows more comfortable, and comfortable cows eat more feed and produce more milk.
"He is poised to capitalize on recent high milk prices by getting more milk production from his herd," Farmer said.
In addition to being a successful dairy farmer, Mills is a member of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, and is active in Mississippi Farm Bureau as a member of the dairy advisory committee and chairman of the Dairy Commodity Committee.