By Tom Collins
CASSELMAN — An Eastern Ontario dairy farm bucked a trend toward freestalls when building a new barn. The farm owners rebuilt with tie-stalls, added a tie-stall robotic milker and a highly unusual dry manure bedding and say that after two years in the new barn, they wouldn’t change a thing.
Farm Rene Franche Et Fils Inc. lost all 120 milking Holsteins and barn after a 2013 fire. The two farmers running the show wanted to stick with tie-stall because they had experience in dealing with hoof problems in a tie-stall but also wanted to make the barn more automated.
“Sometimes we build something and say ‘If we were to start again, I would change that and that,’ but we are happy with all of it,” said Pierre Franche, 47, who runs the dairy and 650-acre cash crop operation with his brother, Mario, 53, and Mario’s sons, Dominick, 25, and Gabriel, 22.
Ahead of the curve, the farm was the first in Ontario to have a tie-stall robot. Roboleo, a mobile robotic milker, was developed by Milkomax, Solutions Laitières Inc., based in Sainte-Monique, Que., north of Quebec City and sold by Eastern Ontario dealer Dairymax Farm Solutions in Winchester. Attached to a track between two rows of tie stalls, the robot stops behind each cow and lowers a ramp over the manure alley to prevent the cow from stepping in manure. Metal arms with free-spinning rollers on both sides of the cow gently encourages her to the centre of the stall and backs her up to the milker. Robotic arms pass between the cow’s legs to the udder. The farm operates two Roboleos for 120 cows.
Franche said the robot has been a tremendous labour savings. It took three people two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening to milk the 120 cows in the old barn. Now one worker checks on the milker throughout the day. It’s a one-worker job 30 minutes per milking. Franche has been using his extra time lately to build an equipment shed.
“I wanted to move the shed so I rebuilt it,” he said. “After I am all done, what I do with my time, I don’t know.”
Here are some of the other plusses in the $2-million barn.
The old barn was 44 ft. by 380 ft. with fans at one end. They opened the doors at the other end to create a wind tunnel. But that option wouldn’t work in the wider, 160 ft. by 200 ft. barn. Instead, they installed six Ventac fans on the ceiling.
Automatic wall curtains were installed and an automated roof ridge also opens to create more air flow.
iSolara Solar Power installed 500 Canadian solar panels on the barn roof. The panels produce 150,000 of kilowatts of power each year, About 98 per cent of the barn’s energy now comes from those solar panels. He estimated the solar panels will start paying for themselves within 10 years.
The Franches use a unique system that turns the cows’ manure into bedding. An automatic scraper pushes the manure into a pit. The Bedding Master Systems manure composter collects the manure while Pro-Line Manufacturing’s EYS separator takes the water out of the manure. The dry manure is then heated to about 66 C to kill pathogens. It takes about 12 to 18 hours to turn the manure into a fluffy, dirt-like bedding.
The bedding is new and highly unusual in Canada but is very popular in the United States, said Franche.
“This is more comfortable for the cow,” said Franche. “It’s what the salesman said and we agree with that.”