North Florida Holsteins
Don Bennink moved to Bell, Florida from New York State in 1980 to start North Florida Holsteins. At that time, 250 cows were milked in a double 12 herringbone parlor. By 1990, Don was milking over 1,000 cows three times a day, so he built a double-40 parallel and used the afikim system for management information. The cows were housed in freestalls with sprinklers and misters. Today the milking herd numbers well over 4,200 and all are housed in tunnel barns. North Florida Holsteins was the first dairy in Florida to start directly loading milk onto milk tankers.
With over 4,200 milking cows, plus corresponding dry cows and young stock, North Florida Holsteins is SMI’s largest single dairy and one of the largest Registered Holstein herds in the country. All replacements are raised on the farm, bringing the total to over 7,000 head.
With high priority placed on udders and strength, it should be no surprise that the herd includes many older cows, and that lifetime production can be well over 200,000 pounds of milk with the cow still in the herd producing. The cow Don is shown holding in the photo produced more than the 350,000 pounds. That’s enough to fill the seven tankers shown in the background!
When genomics and IVF came available for use as a tool for faster progress and more control of results, Don quickly embraced it. The North Florida prefix shows up on many new bulls being sampled today. Other distinguishing aspects of the farm include the highest level of attention to cow comfort, high quality milk, and a breeding program that puts top priority on health traits and productive life. On one visit to the farm with other dairymen, many commented on how calm the cows were. Then they realized part of the reason was that even though they were near the parlor, they only heard the milk vacuum pump. The calm manner that the cattle are handled is directly reflected in their gentle demeanor.
Don is frequently sought after for speaking engagements. He’s featured at farm management conferences and animal breeding symposiums all over the country and around the world. He has spoken on herd management, genetics and genomics in over 20 different countries.
Don serves as a SMI director and as chairman of the Trucking Committee. He also lends his time and experiences as a board member of banks and colleges.