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Modernization vs. expansion: You can afford it

Christina Winch for Progressive Dairyman Published on 08 August 2018
Winch farm

As you drive the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin along Highway 18 just east of Fennimore and glance to the south, you will notice a new building dotting the skyline.

This building has been in the plans for five years. “What is it?” you ask. It’s a new freestall barn to hold 240 cows along with a new milking facility that will consist of four DeLaval robots. On top of all that, the barn is designed to still allow our cows to graze. With low milk prices, tariffs, oversupply of milk and general tough times in the dairy industry, I have been asked, “How can you afford all this?”

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I like to answer by talking about the future of the dairy. Currently, we are landlocked down in the valley. Our manure pit is lucky to hold two months’ worth of manure and is located right on the minimum footage requirement away from the creek. Our coveralls are close to 20 years old and have been recovered once. The freestalls need some work. The parlor was built by my husband and late father-in-law in the mid-1990s. Milking equipment has been updated as needed. As we take a look around, we know that some major updating needs to take place.

We want these updates to help set the farm up for the boys to come back to should they choose, improve our herd and allow for more flexibility with family time. Analyzing goals for our farm, we made the decision that the best situation for us was to totally redesign our facilities and move to the top of the hill. As we are progressing, another question I get asked is, “How’s the expansion going?” To that I like to answer that we are not expanding, rather we are modernizing.

It seems people think because you are building something, it automatically means you are expanding. That doesn’t have to be the case. Just like older cars or furnaces, dairy facilities can also become inefficient. Just the other day at church, we were talking about upgrading the boiler system because the one boiler didn’t even have an efficiency rating on it!

When you start taking a look at where you are spending money, you can see if there is a lot of money going toward repairs. Work with your nutritionist and veterinarian; they might give you suggestions of how better facilities lead to improved cow comfort and ultimately improved production, reproduction and herd health. When you take all these things into consideration, oftentimes modernization makes sense. Run your cash flow by substituting in the cost of modernizing for repairs and veterinary emergency calls. You might just be surprised that it will work.

When I look at all the positives associated with modernizing in the long run, I am confident that I can set the farm up to be here for generations to come. So, yes, I can afford this and so can you.  end mark

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Christina Winch
  • Christina Winch

  • Dairy Producer
  • Fennimore, Wisconsin
  • Email Christina Winch

PHOTO: This photo was taken from a hill in one of our pasture paddocks. You can see the current setup in the valley with the new setup on the hill. Photo by Christina Winch.

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