Majestic Meadows and Orion Ag: Real milk from virtual cows

To date, no one has seen a virtual cow.

That includes Dean Strauss, co owner of Majestic Meadows Farms of
Sheboygan Falls, even though he has had quite a few of them introduced
into Majestic’s herd lately.

Later last year, Majestic implemented a Long-Day Lighting (or LDL)
system that had been designed by Gunnar Josefsson, chief agricultural
researcher for Orion Agricultural Systems of Plymouth.

In a procedure that is not as easy as it may sound, Long-Day Lighting
lengthens the bovine ‘day’ to 16-18 hours with bright artificial light.
This tricks a cow’s circadian rhythms into reducing a ‘slowdown’ brought
on by darkness, and predictably increases the cows’ milk production,
when combined with frequent milking. Although energy and feed costs rise
along with the added length of ‘day,’ the increased production has been
shown to recoup these added costs with about $100 per cow per year left
over as extra income.

Josefsson, who did much of the science that validated LDL while he was
with the University of Wisconsin, did a detailed, lengthy and meticulous
study of the Majestic Meadows operation. Before Josefsson’s results were
in, however, Strauss commented on what he thought it would show based on
his own experience and observation:

“The cows are milking better,” Strauss said before results were in. “The
whole herd seems to be milking better. There are so many variables on a
farm — the feed can change, the weather or something else can change,
so it’s hard for me to say. But I feel comfortable to say we have a
couple or three pounds to the good.”

Josefsson’s results? “The production data show an effect of LDL at about
the expected level – 3.5 lbs./cow/day for this herd. Feed changes and
the high variability associated with practical herd management in a
commercial dairy herd affected the study.”

By both routes, the 3.5 lbs. translate to the predicted $100 per year.
Not bad for a virtual bovine, who requires no space, manure management
or visits from the vet.

With a typical yield of 60 lbs. per day for a Holstein, the increase is
just under six percent.

Or, like having one extra cow for every sixteen.

Although better known for industrial lighting, Orion Energy Systems of
Plymouth has manufactured agricultural lighting products from its very
inception ten years ago.

Through a revamped and dedicated Agricultural Division — and the
addition of the services of Josefsson, who is well-known and respected
in ag circles — the company is making a concerted effort to become an
even bigger player in the field of agricultural lighting.

Orion and Gunnar Josefsson will conduct 10-minute workshops on LDL at
the upcoming Farm Technology Days, July 11-13, a to Quonset Farms,
Wilson-Lima Road west of State 32 near Oostburg. These will be held at
the Applied Technology Center. Orion’s booth is no. 446.

Josefsson’s earlier work played a key role in majestic Meadows’ decision
to fully commit to LDL. “Gunnar Josefsson was the guy we first heard
about Long Day Lighting from,” Dean Strauss said. Straus, his father
Edward and Bob Rasloff are co-owners of the substantial dairy operation.
“We followed his work and research when he was with the university.

“In maybe mid-2004 I met Bill Frost of Orion at a meeting,” Dean Strauss
said. Frost is Orion Ag Lighting’s national sales manager.

“Bill asked if LDL was something we’d be willing to look at, and he
added “we have Gunnar Josefsson on staff working with us.” For us this
was ‘gee, the guy we’ve been reading about the last three-four years,’
and it sure added credibility to what Bill offered. We get companies
coming in all the time asking what about this, what about that — but
Orion had the very guy that’s done a lot of the work on this.”

“It didn’t take us very long to make a decision to go ahead and change
lights,” Strauss said. Majestic Meadows also agreed to have Joseffson
implement a different milking and lighting program, including a new
milking schedule.

Frost said the lighting itself was not what he would call an energy
saving program. In all, Majestic replaced 20 High-Intensity Discharge
(HID) lamps with 64 of Orion’s Barnliter ® fixtures. The disparity in
these numbers, Frost said, ate up the 50% higher efficiency of the Orion

Dean Straus partially disagreed. “There was some energy saving,” Strauss
said. “We received some utility rebates because the fixtures are
energy-efficient compared to what we had before. The rebates wouldn’t
have happened without energy savings.”

Strauss described Majestic Meadows’ operation. “We milk three times a
day. But we run two shifts of people. It’s kind of a unique system.”

“We milk the whole barn on one shift then milk a half of it again. Then
the next shift will come in and start with the ‘other’ half and milk the
whole barn again. So that way we’ve only got to manage two shifts of
people. It’s a lot easier that three shifts.”

“We milk about 570 cows and we run about 425 young stock or heifers.”

Strauss returned to the subject of the lighting. “We did not put the
lights in ourselves. Orion contracted a man from Manitowoc. But we like
the light, especially the brightness and the quality of it. It’s a lot
better. And for the workers there’s less glare, like in the milking
parlors. You can see the cows better.”

Except for the virtual ones, that is.

Orion Agricultural Lighting is a unit of Orion Energy Services of
Plymouth, WI. Orion has been in the agricultural lighting business since
its inception in 1998 and its products, besides winning several prizes,
have been enthusiastically received by the dairying and swine
industries. Due to severely falling prices in both of these markets
shortly after this, Orion concentrated on energy-efficient lighting for
the commercial/industrial sector. Today, Orion manufactures lighting
solutions for dairy, swine, equine and many other types of agriculture
as well. Visit the Orion Agricultural website at