Low-cost Dairy Modernization Keeps the Family in WI Dairy Farms
Situation: Family dairy farming has been a long time tradition throughout the state of WI that drives our economy. Contrary to some beliefs, family run dairy farms are not a thing of the past. Great-grandpa may have defined a family farm as 2-3 dairy cows and thought it absurd that his son (Grandpa) would even think of milking 20 cows. But with the adaptation of newer applied technology, milking and feeding dairy cows became easier and Dad did what he had to do to make a good living. This was Dad’s “family farm” and he may have thought that Grandpa was crazy milking cows without a pipeline. A successful dairy farm may be defined as a dairy farm that provides a family with safe working conditions, time for family and other interests, an education, an acceptable ongoing income and a period of reasonable retirement in good health. New technology, in addition to good management can be the recipe to success on a dairy farm. As of 2006, there were 10,000 Wisconsin dairy farms milking and housing dairy cattle in tiestall and stanchion barns. This type of cattle housing tends to be a more labor intense setup that relies on more hand cleaning and feeding. Milking efficiency is also poor especially in larger tiestall barns with 50 or more cows to milk. This type of labor and repetition over a period of many years has taken a toll of many dairy farmers that now have health issues to take with them in early retirement.
Response: The Northern WI Dairy Educator position is the result of a USDA Dairy Revitalization Grant co-authored by Mike Wildeck and David Kammel. This 50% grant funded position began its third year on May 15, 2008. I have been available to make on-farm calls and offer UW recommendations to dairy farmers interested in making improvements to their dairies. Typically the clientele relationship would begin with a referral by a local ag agent and would result in a joint farm call that would then result in a written recommendation that included drawings, specifications and other pertinent planning information. I have also been able to make information available 24/7 by keeping pictures and dairy modernization resources available on Marathon County’s UWEX Dairy Modernization website (see http://marathon.uwex.edu/ag/modern/index.html). The UW dairy modernization resources have proven to help many dairy farm owners throughout the state improve labor efficiencies, working conditions, profitability and overall cow health. This information was derived from the 2008 Wisconsin Dairy Modernization Survey that consisted of 99 farmers who recently modernized their dairy facilities.
Results: In 2008, many dairy farmers took what they learned about the benefits of modernizing their dairy farms and put these benefits to work on their own farms. This knowledge was learned from the experience of other farmers, local UWEX dairy programs, tours, and on-farm consultations. I conducted 50 farm calls throughout 2008 and had direct personal contact with 61 farms via phone, internet or farm visits. Of these farms, 1 farm constructed a new 100 pen calf barn, 7 farms built additional dairy housing and most impressive of all, 11 dairies constructed new or retrofitted milking parlors within the last year. I have worked with all of these farms within the last 2 ½ years and assisted all of them with an on-farm visit and recommendations. The positive results of the 2008 WI Dairy Modernization survey should apply to current and future modernization projects as long as the industry doesn’t drastically change. These results will assist in keeping the next generation dairy farmers profitable, healthy, happy, and active in their families and community.
Impact: With over 110 people attending the Dairy Facilities for Profit program in Abbotsford, WI in February of 2008, it was evident that people had a lot of interest in low cost parlors, cattle handling, transition cow facilities and deriving additional profit from modernizing their dairies. According to the program survey, 81% of all responses rated the overall topics usefulness as a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. This program was organized by Bendixen, Stuttgen and Zimmermann.
The grant funded, Northern WI Dairy Educator position assisted in the planning process of 11 newly constructed milking parlors, 7 dairy barns constructed for additional dairy cattle housing, and the construction of a 100 pen calf barn. These modernization projects are typically the result of years of planning. UW Extension deserves the credit for putting on Dairy modernization programs, tours and displays that have given the dairy farmers the nudge needed to go forward with their projects. Milking parlors and labor efficient dairy facilities are not just for large farms anymore. Most of these concepts can be duplicated on smaller farms if farmers are resourceful, plan well and make sound financial and management decisions. The 2008 WI Dairy Modernization Survey found that the 99 farms surveyed went from milking 82 cows on average to milking 203 cows after going through a modernization project. Dairy producers in the survey were able to reduce daily labor by an average of 25.8 hours/cow/year. The numbers from the survey showed that these producers were able to milk almost 2 ½ times the number of cows with about the same amount of labor for daily chores. This is progress that we need to replicate by educating and encouraging people about the benefits associated with dairy modernization and planning.
An Eastern WI dairymen and his wife attended several dairy modernization programs in Northcentral WI over the last couple of years. They had also attended the Low Cost Parlor Display at Farm Tech Days, attended an informal low cost milking parlor tour organized by the Langlade County Ag Agent. In addition to these UWEX sponsored events, they also requested a farm visit by the Northern WI Dairy Educator to aid them in planning and layout of their milking parlor. They began construction in the summer of 2008 and gained additional information by contacting Haugen and Kammel. The parlor was completed in late summer and everything has been going smoothly on their 80 cow herd. The producer was able to construct a very nice swing 10 parabone milking parlor for a reasonable price, and is very happy with the milking efficiency of the parlor. They have already referred a couple of other farms to me that are also interested in a low cost parlor. This emphasized the importance of tours that show dairymen that other people are actually doing these projects and they are not alone if they go forward with a project.
Sam Zimmermann, Dairy Educator – Northern WI Region – 2008 Success Story