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Schuttes rely on robots now, proud of dairy heritage

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 03 June 2016
Lance and Jonna Schutte, Blake 7, Briella 5 and Breklyn 3

“What other job would allow us to work together as a family every day?” says Jonna Schutte.

Jonna, Lance and their three children dairy farm near Monona, Iowa. Their farm sits on top of a knoll in the rolling unglaciated hills of northeast Iowa. Their heifers graze on the lush green pastures that feature occasional sinkholes.

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Lance has lived on this farm since he was 7 years old and is at least the fifth generation of his family to dairy in northeast Iowa. Jonna grew up on her parents’ (Dennis and Joan Worden) dairy farm about one hour southwest in Oelwein, Iowa, and her family has been farming for at least four generations before her.

They have farmed together at Jo-Lane Dairy since their marriage in May 2006. They have three children: Blake, 7, Briella, 5, and Breklyn, 3.

Lance started purchasing cows as soon as he graduated from school, and he spent a year in the dairy science program at a local community college. In April of 2009, they bought the herd of cows from his dad and stepmom, Roger and Denise Schutte.

In 2012, they bought the buildings from his dad. They are still renting the land but plan to purchase it sometime in the future.

Jonna attended Iowa State University, majoring in dairy science and ag education/communication systems. She always wanted to be involved with the dairy industry but admits she did not necessarily plan to dairy farm. Lance and Jonna met through her brother while at a Holstein show.

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The Schuttes have milked 117 cows with two robotic units for about three years, and they say using this technology has helped them to spend more time with their family and attend their children’s activities.

Jonna said she does sometimes miss the therapeutic quiet time of milking – but not so much that she wants to go back to milking the old way twice a day.

Jonna was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with Breklyn when they started up the robotics. They admit the startup time was very crazy but say there is probably never a perfect time to do a big project on the farm.

They used to spend about two-and-a-half hours a day milking. Now they spend much of that time doing herd management, running fresh cows through the robots and other necessary tasks, but they can now do those chores when they want to, moving chore time to later or earlier in the day to attend a wrestling meet or baseball game.

The robotics also allow them to operate their herd and 250 acres themselves. They used to have part-time help, and Lance’s dad would help with mixing feed; now they are usually able to do all those things themselves.

Built a new freestall barn along the installing robotics

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They added a new freestall barn at the same time as the robots and converted the old freestall to heifer housing.

Two years ago, they added automatic calf feeders to their operation. Shortly after installing the feeders, one of their children had to be hospitalized for an illness, and they quickly appreciated the flexibility the calf feeders offered.

Prior to the robotics, their herd averaged about 85 pounds of milk per cow per day. They milked in a tiestall barn, and the cows were housed in a freestall.

The last three years they have averaged about 105 pounds per cow per day – a number Lance and Jonna credit to cow comfort in quality facilities, quality feed and good genetics. Their entire herd is registered and consists of about 20 Brown Swiss, a few Ayrshires, and the remainder is Holsteins.

Their acreage is able to provide for their herd’s feed needs. They grow corn, alfalfa and cover crops such as peas and oats. The flexibility of the robotics helps them to harvest crops at peak times for maximum nutrition for the cows.

With the robotics, they have also noticed a reduction in foot and leg problems, better overall herd health, increased longevity of their cows, and they have reduced the amount of hormones needed for breeding due to the information provided by the activity monitoring system.

They are converting the old barn into housing for weaned heifers

They are currently in the process of converting their old tiestall barn to heifer housing, but they do not currently have any other plans for farm improvements or changes. They do want to continue keep doing little things to continually make things better for their family and animals.

The Schuttes also use genomics, and Lance loves focusing on genetics. They have nearly 10 bulls in A.I. now, both Brown Swiss and Holstein.

Breklyn loves the farm, and her parents laugh and say she works as hard as some adults and puts in as many hours. They will be losing a good farm helper when she goes to preschool next year.

Briella is “all about the cows,” and she loves farm activities that put her in contact with the animals.

Blake used to like to scrape the alleys and other barn work, but his current favorite activity is mowing the lawn. He also likes throwing hay bales.  PD

Beyond Print: See additional photos of the Jo-Lane Dairy operation and the Schutte family in this slideshow.

PHOTO 1: Lance and Jonna Schutte farm with their children, Briella, 5 and Breklyn, 3, and Blake, 7.

PHOTO 2: The Schuttes built a new freestall barn along with installing robotics about three years ago. The barn features tunnel ventilation and sand bedding.

PHOTO 3: The Schuttes are currently in the process of converting the old barn into housing for weaned heifers. Photos by Kelli Boylen.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer from Waterville, Iowa.

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