Title: 1995 Ag-Environmental: Davie Dairy, Inc.
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
For any newborn, starting out in life is never easy. Those first few steps are full of uncertainty. Bill Berman understands the demands of starting anew. Twenty years ago he made a career change, leaving his veterinary practice to manage the family-owned Davie Dairy. But, far from forsaking his previous profession, he built upon it; Berman now cares for not just the individual animal, but for a whole system of animals.
Bill Berman: I found the dairy business, which one might think of as a kind of uneventful existence, is precisely the opposite -- has been extremely challenging. One of the biggest challenges has been developing this system and seeing it work.
Davie Dairy was founded in Broward County in 1959. Eight years later, as part of the migration of dairies away from urban areas, Davie Dairy moved to the less populated Okeechobee County. Since 1967 the operation has grown to 960 acres with herd of 2,000 dairy cows. In 1988, the dairy -- under the direction of Berman and co-owner Glynn Rutledge -- undertook an innovative waste management project to reduce nutrient runoff.
Bill Berman: The primary challenge that we had when we were trying to design the system was how to capture the maximum amount of nutrients from the cows and recycle it into cow feed so that the minimum amount of nutrients was leaving the farm in the surface runoff.
Davie Dairy departed from then-current conventional practices, and became the first dairy in South Florida to construct a total confinement system for housing milk cows. The project was undertaken as part of a cost-sharing agreement involving the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the South Florida Water Management District.
The cows are fed in modern free-stall barns that reflect a veterinarian's insight into animal comfort and well-being.
Bill Berman: The barns are designed to allow the cows to be comfortable, particularly in the summer when it's very hot; we have fans and sprinklers in what's called free stalls which are very comfortable spaces for them to lie down in, and basically after they've eaten all they want they just relax and make milk. And this is probably the key to any good system in a dairy situation, is how efficiently can you feed the cows. Because feeding is the key to good production.
The waste is flushed out to a system of lagoons. There, bacteria constantly break down the solids into a nutrient-rich solution. The collected wastewater is then recycled. It is used to flush out the barns, or is stored until needed to irrigate the Bermuda grass hay fields. The 200 acres of high-quality forage is then harvested and added to the feed given to the milking herd.
Bill Berman: We really wanted to maximize not only the environmental benefits but the economic benefits, and we thought this would be the best way to make our herd more productive and more efficient.
The Davie Dairy project has demonstrated -- at great financial risk to the owners -- that dairy herd confinement in South Florida can be an economically feasible method for improving the environment.