Established in 1990, Alliance Dairies was the first DEP permitted dairy in North Florida. Today, it is the largest free-stall dairy in one location within the state, employing more than 120 people. Our Holstein herd consists of more than 5,000 mature cows and accompanying young stock. The dairy site is 1,600 acres, with an additional 4,500 acres owned or rented for replacement heifers and crops.
Nutrition is a priority at Alliance Dairies because our success depends greatly on the welfare of our animals. We ask high performance of our cows, so we must provide them with the appropriate “fuel” or feed to get the job done without putting stress on their bodies. A dairy nutritionist guides us on ideal rations needed to achieve maximum milk potential, while preserving herd health. These rations are a combination of mixed forages such as corn silage, ryegrass, sorghum and Bermuda grass. We grow more than 85% of the forages, and purchase the remaining 15% from local farmers. On average, each cow eats 55 pounds of dry matter daily.
Nowadays, people seem to parallel the term “organic” not only with environmental concerns, but also with animal welfare. Alliance Dairies is not organic. In fact, one of the main reasons we are not organic is because animal health is a top concern. For a dairy to be certified as organic, a cow treated with antibiotics must be permanently removed from the milking herd. Our sick cows are sent to our hospital barn where they are properly treated (herd is regularly seen by a veterinarian) and retained until any antibiotics have completely left their systems. This enables us to care for our sick animals, and return them to milking when they are healthy. Imagine if employers fired every person who got sick. We would be out of a work force! This is the same for our dairy. If we culled every sick cow, we would be out of cows, and you would be out of milk.
Herd care doesn’t only apply to sick animals. At Alliance Dairies, we strive for “cow comfort”. This means all cows are provided with fresh food and water daily; clean and comfortable sand beds; barns cleaned three times daily; and fans and misters in the barn to cool our girls during those steamin’ hot Florida summers.
Our 5,000+ Holstein herd is milked three times per day. There are two milking parlors: one can milk 70 cows at one time, and the other milks 80 cows per milking. At this rate, cows average 22,500 pounds (2,616 gallons) of milk per year. To help visualize this, think in these terms: Alliance Dairies can fill six milk truck tanks in one day. Milk transportation to the processing plant and marketing efforts are managed by Southeast Milk Cooperative (SMI), of which Alliance Dairies is a member.
At Alliance Dairies, we are firm believers in renewable resources. Why waste something you already have at your fingertips? Here are some practices we’ve incorporated to improve the sustainability of our operation:
- Except for cleaning, cow cooling and consumption, all water used on the dairy is recycled
- More than 80% of sand used in bedding is recycled
- Effluent is applied as organic fertilizer, which is recycled through plants that are harvested to meet the dietary needs of the cattle
- Other manure waste is carried offsite and sprayed or injected into the soil, decreasing future fertilizer use
- Our herd consumes a lot of by-products that would normally end up in a landfill. By-products include: citrus pulp, wet brewers grain, distillers grain and cotton seed and cotton seed hulls. This equals 32,000 tons of by-product every year that our cows consume that does not take space in a land fill. This comprises almost one-third of the cow’s diet.
Aside from these practices, Alliance Dairies has recently implemented the use of a methane digester to convert manure into electricity (the digester interrupts the cycle of manure to plant). Our digester will supply over 70% of the dairy’s daily electricity, which is equivalent to powering 425 homes year round.