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Farm finds easy button for more time

Published on 21 September 2009

Brothers David and Charles Wiens now have more time to spend on herd management, have reduced annual operating costs, can do more management-oriented work with fewer people, and can spend more time with their families after automating their dairy in 2007.

They run Skyline Dairy, a third-generation farm founded in 1926.

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“Feeding, milking and barn cleaning are the three areas we automated,” says David. “Just these three things save us about $80,000 per year in labor.”

Push-button feeding
The Wiens have five vertical silos for haylage and high-moisture grain on the main farm and another at a youngstock farm nearby.

“Now our whole automated feeding system depends upon fast delivery,” Charles says. “We can now feed faster with our conveyor system than we can with a pile.”

Feeding is a snap and takes just one person. The computerized feeding “smart panel” can be set to feed precisely measured rations to however many cows desired.

Feed stored in the farm’s silos is unloaded and conveyed to the TMR mixer in a central building within minutes. The mixed feed then moves upwards via an elevator to conveyors over the feed alley; feed drops down from above.

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The farm also retains bunker storage for ryegrass, oats and peas which are manually added to the TMR. The brothers feed their 230-cow milking herd two times back-to-back in the morning and another two times in the evenings.

Feeding a 230-cow herd used to take two hours, but now there’s no actual labor. That two hours saved can be directed to the actual management of the herd.

“We still have two full-time employees and two part-time employees. They are doing some work in the barn as well as feeding our heifers outside and at our youngstock farm,” Charles adds.

Economical and environmental manure management
Manure is automatically scraped from the new barn’s aisles into end pits where it is pumped to a 120’x28’ above- ground storage system. Stricter environmental standards and a desire to improve their nutrient management system led the Wiens to purchase a 2.5 million gallon above-ground system instead of a lagoon.

With the farm being located right beside a creek and the water table being very high, an above-ground storage system was a perfect fit. The engineered structure alleviated any environmental concerns that would otherwise have been raised.

“At one point people put in lagoons because they were cheaper to construct, but that is not so much the case anymore,” adds David. On fields too far away from the manure holding tank for manure injection, the Wiens spend about $120 per acre for fertilizer.

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“On those acres where we inject manure, we’re looking at $50 per acre for fertilizer,” David says.

Working in the cost of application, he says the farm saves about $40 per acre pumping from the manure storage tank.

“Application is much more precise versus the old spreaders. We’re not pounding up and down the furrows with tankers and manure spreaders,” David explains.

Controlled-flow milking
Milking is also done automatically with a state-of-the-art robotic milking system put in at the same time the new 240-cow, 32,000-square foot freestall barn was built in 2007. At Skyline Dairy, cows are on their own milking schedules.

Although the dairy is not the only one in Manitoba with a robotic milking system, it is one of the few that employs controlled-flow milking, a pre-selection system that keeps cows from entering the parlor if they have been milked within the previous six hours. Each cow has a transponder around its neck to identify it.

“Smart” gates read the transponders, moving cows not ready for milking back to their freestalls; likewise, cows ready to be milked cannot return to their bedding stalls unless they go through the robotic milker first.

The system identifies non-productive cows that haven’t entered the parlor within 12 hours, how often they have been milked and their production. Milking most days is done with just a herdsman and a student who does chores.

Before the robotic system, 4 to 4.5 people were needed to do chores and milk in their old parlor. Milking the entire herd would take around six hours. Four robotic stations are capable of milking 60 cows each.

“The old way, we were chasing cows into the parlor, tying and untying them – it was like a marathon. We wouldn’t have time to think about how to improve things,” Charles adds.

Herd health costs have gone down, too, David says, as the brothers now spend more time for bi-weekly herd health checkups and monitoring herd health overall. Charles and his wife, Doris, have two children, Mark and Dana; and David and his wife, Denise, also have two – Elizabeth and Jasmine.

“But above all, we are now enjoying spending more time with our families,” David says. PD

—From Engineered Storage Products news release

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