Bradley Biehl is a 4th generation dairy farmer from Kutztown, PA. He partnered with his father, Dalton Biehl, to install the first US Astrea 20.20, 2-stall robotic milking system by AMS Galaxy USA. Brad holds a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and designed the new fully automated facility that milks 120 cows. Brad will share the challenges and successes that a small family dairy can expect when transitioning from a typical 60-cow tie stall operation to an automatic milking system. Doubling the number of cows milked, 30% increase in production and only adding a fraction of the labor could only be possible with precision technology including programmable and iPhone controlled lighting, curtains, sprinklers, fans, IP cameras and a single robotic arm that milks cows in 2 stalls.
Dirk and Erica Kiestra of Kie Farms milk 90 cows in a new MIone 2-box automatic milking system from GEA Farm Technologies. The Kiestra family has also embraced automated technology in many other areas of their dairy as well. They utilize robotic manure scraping as well as automated climate control and the latest ventilation systems. In addition, many management tasks on their operation can be monitored remotely via an internet camera system. And, the Kiestra’s still put production and milk quality first. They have a 93 lb/cow herd average, with cows milking 3.5 times per day on average. Their SCC is 65,000 and their bactoscan is 5. In the future, the Keistra’s hope to expand their 2-box system to a 4-box system.
SwissLane Dairy Farms is a fourth generation operation established in 1915 in Alto, MI. In 2011, the farm broke ground to add an additional facility and started milking in the facility that November. The expansion added 500 cows, eight automatic milking systems (AMS), manure lagoon, dry cow facility and cropping acres. The freestall barn for the milking cows has 8 Lely Astronaut Milking Robots where the cows are managed in the “Free Flow” environment. Ally scrapers, sprinkler system and fans were also included in the sand bedded freestall barn. The dry cow and heifer freestall barn includes maternity pens. The milk is directly loaded into tankers. There is also a viewing area for visitors to watch the Milking Robots in action. There are 4 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Currently, SwissLane Farms includes 2,000 milking cows, 1,800 replacement heifers, 400 steers, and 4,500 cropping acres. Tom worked as a Dairy Nutrition Consultant before coming back to the family farm. Tom oversees the 8-robot dairy as well as providing nutritional support for the entire SwissLane Dairy operation. Tom and his wife have 3 children and reside in rural Alto.
The Peissigs (Jake and Tolea, and Tom and Peggy) own JTP Farms in Dorchester, WI. Jake and his father Tom farm 500 acres along with managing a 285-cow herd utilizing 4 Delaval VMS’s. The facility, located on a completely new site, includes: 4/56 stall groups, cross ventilated barn, sand bedding, and a special needs pre-fresh area. Before the robotic dairy was built, Peissig’s were milking 120 cows in an outdated freestall barn with limited stall comfort, and milking in a double-4 flat-barn parlor. When expansion was on the horizon, Jake and Tom realized the benefits of cow comfort, but labor was the selling point on the robotic option. Along with the labor savings, the herd management options are much farther advanced with the future expandability of technology a definite selling point. Since startup in January 2012, JTP has seen a steady growth in milk production, a lower cull rate, and overall better herd health. The Peissig’s are able to operate their facility including the raising of all young stock using only 2 full time people. Currently JTP is milking between 62-67 cows per VMS, consistently averages over 6000 lb/robot/day across all 4 robots, and between 95-100 lb/cow/day. Paying special attention to cow comfort and operator ease are some of the reasons that make this robotic operation so successful.
In 2000, the VanWieren family moved to Canada from Holland and bought a 100-acre farm where they are now. The dairy facility was built and then the milking of 100 cows began. In February 2013, three MR-S1, BoumaticRobotic Automated Milkers, replaced the ‘Double 10’ Parallel Parlour milking 140 cows. Four Clover Dairy Inc. currently owns 300 acres and rents 85 acres to grow hay and corn. The farm is a family run operation, with a tractor driver being hired to haul wagons for haylage and corn silage harvests. The dairy barn has 150 freestalls and bedded straw pack for dry and sick cows. The stalls are bedded with sawdust that is applied twice daily. The barn is cooled with fans and sprinklers and manure is moved out with chain alley scrapers. Cows are TMR fed, with supplement, cottonseed, ground corn, brewers grain, haylage and corn silage. Milk averages 31 kg 4.3 butterfat 3.8 protein.
This family farm is run by two brothers, Paul and Chris, who work with four cousins, Jennifer, Greg, Derek and Kevin. There are 540 acres under cultivation half way down Lake Erie’s north shore and 30 miles north. They look after 195 mature Holsteins and 175 followers milking 170 3x daily with the help of 2 part time milkers. There are a number of reasons they looked into the cow side testing offered by Herd Navigator. The first was heat detection as they looked at pedometers. During a change in management through succession, how do they maintain production if there is reduction in available time and experience? Working under a quota cap makes increasing efficiency one way to more profit. They were looking for a way to improve our fresh cow monitoring. At the Toronto Precision Dairy Conference in 2011 there was a presentation by DeLaval on the work they were doing with progesterone cow side testing and more. Paul and Chris showed interest in the work being done and decided to wait for Navigator. In that same year, they were approached to be a test farm. By November 2011, Herd Navigator was running in their herd. It made them the first parlor herd in North America and the first 3x herd. The ketone and mastitis testing has helped increase peak production over the last year. Urea testing used in combination with feed watch and every other day bulk tank fat and protein testing has helped to fine-tune feed rations. Progesterone testing helps with breeding, but also identifies anestrous, cystic, and pregnant cows. This has reduced hormone use and vet costs. There continues to be a learning curve as they become more comfortable with the capabilities and limitations of Herd Navigator. There has been savings, and more to come as they try to squeeze more milk out of the untapped genetic potential of their cows.
In August of 2007, the University of Florida Dairy Unit was the first dairy in the U.S. to install AfiLab. The software made it easier and more efficient for faculty conducting research and it provided them with daily fat, protein and lactose content with results immediately after a cow finished milking. It was discovered very quickly how much of an impact the AfiLab was going to have on herd management. Cows with clinical ketosis as well as those with sub-clinical ketosis were identified using the fat/protein ratio. With that knowledge, the Dairy Unit can refine their fresh cow protocols and change their far-off and springing dry cow management as needed. They are currently working with different ratios within the fat, protein and lactose to find sub-clinical acidosis and mastitis, and to make sure the CIP system is working properly. Every day the AfiLab is there to let them know about the health of each cow and if the herd management is on the right track.
Carlson Dairy, LLP, a 1250-cow dairy farm near Willmar, Minnesota (approximately 100 miles west of Minneapolis), is run by 3 Carlson families: Curtney and Louise Carlson with their two sons and wives, Chad and Kindra Carlson and Carl and Kellie Carlson. They have been dairying in partnership as Carlson Dairy, LLP since 1999. Their milking herd is housed in a 10-row, cross-ventilated, sand-bedded freestall facility, and their sand is continuously recycled through sand settling lanes. They milk 3x/day in a double-18 parallel milking parlor using Beco milking equipment. They have 720 tillable acres that are split between corn and alfalfa. The Carlsons have been using an Urban U40 automated calf feeder since April 2012. Approximately 50% of heifer calves born utilize the auto calf feeder while the other half are bucket fed in individual pens.
Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy is a family owned and operated dairy in Algoma, WI. The dairy has a Bou-Matic double 12 parallel parlor. Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy has recently built a new calf feeding facility. This facility contains an H&L 100 Automatic Calf Feeder along with a Calf Star Calf Milk Pasteurizer and is housed in an H&L Igloo Verandah system.
Rohe Dairy has been in operation for 15 years as a partnership with 3 brothers; however, it is in its 3rd generation as a farm/farming. Rohe Dairy milks on average 250 cows with about 40 dry, and they have an inventory of 340 young stock. The parlor is a double-12 parallel. A new calf barn was built in 2012 onto an existing barn that originally housed dry cows. They started feeding 1st calves in July of 2012. The barn is approximately 131 feet long by 30 feet wide with 12-foot ceilings. It has tunnel ventilation with 6 small and 5 larger exhaust fans. There are 4 pens that can house about 20 calves per pen, 1 Lely feeder with 2 nipple sites, a self-enclosed room for the calf feeder and separate room for the computer and supplies, and waterers in each pen. Calves are brought down via a ramp from the existing barn at about 5 days during the summer and 7 days in the winter with 48 days on program, 5-liter start, 7-liter middle feeding, and 2-liter wean off. A calf candy pellet mix is offered on day 1 of the feeding program. Nipples are changed daily and milk hoses are changed once each week. Weaned calves are moved in groups of 10 to an outside facility. Milker replacer is LOL Amplifermax. Their bedding is a base of sawdust shavings topped with straw. Fresh bedding is provided every 9 to 11 days with daily straw added as needed.
Betley Farms is a third generation family farm started by Jeff Betley’s grandfather in 1942. Jeff took over the operation from his parents, Jack and Gloria, in 1991. Jeff and his wife, Jena, started a custom heifer raising operation in 2001, which is now solely filled with their own heifers. Heifers are raised at a separate facility until they reach 500 lb and are then sent off to a customer grower. The Betleys are milking 3X/day yielding 98 lb/cow/day with 3.6% fat and 3.15% protein, and a somatic cell count of 95.5 for all of 2012. Their 1,550 milking cows are housed in sand-bedded freestalls. From the parlor to cow flow to the arrangement of the farm and respect from employees, cow comfort is a high priority. The new 50-stall rotary turn-time is a 1-hour maximum for each cow group allowing for quick and reliable milking giving the cows more free time for eating, drinking, resting and sleeping. The cows are fed a TMR of corn silage, alfalfa silage and a corn/protein mix with all ingredients delivered at the same time – nothing added for specific cows. The Betleys use an AfiFarm Herd Management System to manage dairy cows and heifers. All milking cows have PedoPlus pedometers. Breeding, health, wellness and rest times are monitored daily. They monitor several metrics in the parlor daily including milker procedure through let-down, flow rates and irregularities.
Funks Midway Dairy has expanded in phases and currently have a total of 580 cows averaging over 80 lb per day. They use the SCR (AI 24) with both activity and rumination to assist with herd management. They believe in watching and breeding off of natural heats and the AI 24 assists with that. They currently have a 26% pregnancy rate. The activity provides peace of mind knowing they are breeding the cows at the right time. The rumination data helps detect cows with ketosis, mastitis, metritis or stomach problems early, and helps evaluate if cows are responding to treatment. Attend this session to learn how the Funks use the SCR system to achieve a high pregnancy rate and improve health management.
Tom runs the 300-head dairy with his father Pat and uncle Mike. They installed a Select Detect system in February of 2011. The Select Detect system is one of the best investments that they've made in recent years. The pregnancy rate has increased 9 points, and conception rates increased by 16% for first service and 12% over all breeding.
Kevin and his brothers own and operate 3 dairy farms in Central Virginia. Kevin also has a son that has recently returned to the farms. With the three farms, they have a total of approximately 700 milking head. They utilize the three locations to maximize management and labor savings. For instance, the “Home Place” farm houses all of the fresh cows until they are confirmed pregnant; sick cows; or otherwise high-maintenance animals. Once cows are confirmed pregnant, they are moved to the “New Hope” farm. At this location, minimal labor is key. There is typically only 1 employee that milks and feeds the animals. The third location “Kentmere” is a bedded-pack barn system. This is where they house any animals that do not perform well in freestalls or may have feet or leg issues. Cows will rotate through these facilities based upon their current needs and stage of lactation. The Phillips brothers are true believers in technology. Technology allows them to make informed management decisions, even remotely.