Case VanderMeulen would like to raise the heifers that will become his dairy cows longer before sending them to his heifer raiser.
That's why the owner of Coulee Flats Dairy near Mesa has applied for a Franklin County conditional-use permit for up to 3,500 cows at 2270 Joyce Road near Mesa.
The property east of Highway 395 is about two miles from his dairy, where VanderMeulen and his employees milk 4,400 cows three times daily, producing about 40,000 gallons of milk a day.
The conditional-use permit would allow VanderMeulen to keep calves on his property until their immune systems get stronger. He said he plans to add better facilities for the young calves to live in until they get to be about 5 months old and between 400 and 500 pounds.
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The Franklin County planning commission will accept public comment on VanderMeulen's proposal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
As of last week, several written comments already had been submitted, including a letter of opposition from the same group of farmers that took Easterday Ranches to court challenging the state law that allows farmers to use unlimited amounts of water for livestock without a state permit.
Five Corners Family Farmers questioned water effect, air quality, health and property enjoyment with VanderMeulen's proposal, similar to complaints the group made about Easterday Ranches' new feedlot.
The state Supreme Court agreed with Easterday Ranches and a ruling by Franklin County Superior Court, saying that state law does not limit the amount of ground water that can be tapped for livestock from a permit-exempt well.
The county required VanderMeulen to have a qualified professional complete a well impairment analysis. VanderMeulen said it did show the water he would use for stock would not impair any of his neighbors' use of ground water.
The water use will be minimal, more than a home would use but much less than irrigated farmland, VanderMeulen said. Water from the new well that would be drilled would be used for drinking water for the heifers, and possibly some dust control.
VanderMeulen said he plans to build for about 1,800 heifers for now, with room to expand. But he asked for 3,500 head on the conditional-use permit so he has room to expand without going through the permitting process again.
VanderMeulen said he already has a small facility on the property and can keep 999 or fewer heifers on the property without the permit. But he would like to build more permanent housing that would be better for the animals and more efficient for his employees.
The calves live in individual huts at the dairy until they are about 60 days old. Then they will live in small group pens and then in regular corrals at the property on Joyce Road.
The heifers will become milk cows after they have their first baby at about 2 years old, VanderMeulen said. They will come to his dairy shortly before then and begin working as milk cows.
The average milk cow produces milk until it is 5 years old, he said. When the cow no longer produces milk, VanderMeulen sells it. He also sells bull calves once they reach 300 pounds, at about 3 months old.
About one-third of VanderMeulen's milking herd is culled each year, he said. He started Coulee Flats Dairy in Franklin County in 2008 but had a dairy farm in the Yakima Valley starting in 1991.
VanderMeulen said part of the reason he chose the location for his dairy is because the area isn't densely populated. The nearest home to his proposed heifer facility is at least two miles away, and most of the nearby land is dryland wheat farming, rangeland or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program land.
His operation doesn't have any effect on the farms where the Five Corners Family Farmers live, he said.
VanderMeulen said he has received positive feedback about his plans from some local farmers.
VanderMeulen said he will update his nutrient management plan with the state, which shows that he is not putting more cow manure on his crops than will be used by the crops.
As part of his application for a conditional-use permit, VanderMeulen submitted a letter from the state Department of Agriculture showing that his use of nutrients, record keeping system, containment and storage and compost piles were in "great shape."
VanderMeulen said he also will need to update his dust, odor and fly control plan that the county requires for the additional numbers of cows.
"It's just sound animal husbandry," he said.
The planning commission meeting will be at the Franklin County Courthouse, 1016 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco.