Hillcrest Dairy Farm has been the Cream of the Crop for years. Now it is the big cheese, too.
Hillcrest received the Cream of the Crop Award, along with 15 other dairy farms, at the Georgia Dairy Conference in Atlanta on Jan. 31. Hillcrest also was named the top milk producer in the state.
"That award is for top production per cow," Hillcrest co-manager Mark Rodgers said. "We're not the biggest herd in the state by any means. We are blessed for our product to be as good as it was this year, and that the facility is working out so well."
For 2010, Hillcrest's average production per cow was 27,882 pounds of milk, which averages 3,242 gallons per cow. Rodgers said those numbers were tallied in September, and they're even higher now. The Rodgers farm also was No. 2 in the state for fat production per cow, which means it contributed heavily to the state's production of cheese and butter.
Rodgers credited the successful numbers to "attention to detail."
"The herdsmen in this state are good, there's no doubt about it," he said. "So, to take it to the next level, past the 26,000-pound range, you've really got to micromanage. You think about each cow and how comfortable you can make them. Contented cows give a lot of milk."
Hillcrest has been in the dairy business in Dearing since 1935 and is co-owned, managed and operated by Rodgers, his brother Andy, and their father, Billy. The farm spans 1,200 acres, with approximately 865 Holsteins, including milk cows, calves and replacements. They milk 400 at a time, on average, with Mark Rodgers overseeing the dairy herd and milk production and Andy Rodgers managing the crops, construction projects, farm equipment and accounting.
Hillcrest has a computerized informational system that keeps tabs on every member of the herd, and the Rodgers added a 61,000-square-foot, free-stall barn in 2009 to ensure the cows' comfort and health.
Dubbed "the Hilton for cows," the barn has sand for bedding because it is more comfortable for the cows and harbors no bacteria. The roof runs east to west to keep out the Georgia summer sun, and 100 fans and misters keep the cows cool in the summer. Rubber flooring provides better traction for the cows and controls wear and tear on their hooves.
The barn was designed as a total-confinement facility, which enabled the Rodgerses to milk the cows three times daily a couple of months after it was up.
"The cows are much healthier because there's less pressure on their udders," Rodgers said.
The additional time spent milking meant the Rodgerses had to hire extra personnel, but the cows don't know that. Rodgers said each of the dozen staff members follows the same routines and procedures so the cows never realize there's been a shift change and never feel uncomfortable.
"The staff worked really hard, and it was definitely a team effort," Rodgers said. "They really stepped it up to get to that No. 1 slot, and it was a point of pride for them."
The barn's manure-management system and the farm's recycling system have earned the Rodgerses awards and recognition as an environmentally friendly production farm.
"They've gotten the quality-production award every single year since I've been here. They truly are the cream of the crop," said McDuffie County Extension Agent Frank Watson, adding that the top-producer award is probably a first for this area because the winners usually come out of Madison or Eatonton.