HASTINGS — One of Ontario’s premier show families expects to have even more success thanks to an area of their new barn designed with 26 stalls and four box stalls just for show cows and high-end genetic animals.
John Crowley and family, of Crovalley Holsteins at Hastings, have multiple banners from years of showing. To enhance a visitor’s experience, they wanted to showcase their best cows and feed them easily, so the new six-row freestall barn with two Lely robots has a 50 ft. by 100 ft. section behind the robot solely for show cows — they still have access to the robot.
The main herd gets a TMR mixture, but only 20 per cent of the show cows’ diets come from that mixture. The rest of the feed is dry hay and a dairy supplement.
“Because our tie-stall barn worked so good with the show cows and bus tours and people coming to market cattle, when you get two rows of cows lined up standing tail to tail, it was a great presentation for people,” said Crowley, explaining that the show cows can be easily tied up in the show pen. “You can tie them up for classifying or for bus tours and have them showed off a little nicer than just walking around free. If they want to see a cow loose, you just let her go and she walks around her environment.”
Crowley said they visited 50 barns across Canada from January to April last year, and they didn’t see a show pen in any of them. The show pen was one of the big attractions at the farm’s open house on Aug. 23 that attracted 1,000 visitors.
Crowley is hopeful the pen will help at future shows. Breeding has already improved since the move, and they’re down to 1.6 vials of semen per pregnancy.
The farm is run by John, his wife Cynthia and two sons Justin, 28, and Ryan, 25, while daughters Christina and Vanessa help when they visit. Both sons wanted to farm and that pushed the Crowleys into building the new $2.5 million, 135 ft. by 260 ft. barn.
They were milking 106 cows in the old 40 ft. by 160 ft. tie-stall that was built in 1977. There were only 70 stalls, so 36 cows were switched out during every milking. Now they’re milking 112 Holsteins with the ability to add an extra robot to milk 200. They own 131 kg of quota and plan to install a third robot when they get to the 160 kg range.
It took a while for the cows to get used to the new barn after the Feb. 6 move-in. They had been spoiled. Then Crowley brought the milkers and the feed to them.
“Now you have an environment where they have to get up out of their stall, go to their feed and then go to a robot to be milked,” Crowley said. “It was very challenging. For the first four days, we had to shove every cow into that robot. As soon as we got the 110th done, we started over again.”
Production dropped an average of 10 kilos per cow for the first few weeks, but has since rebounded to normal levels. In the first few weeks, friends and neighbours helped push the cows to the robots.
“We were pre-warned many, many times that the first two weeks would be terrible and the next two weeks weren’t going to be much better,” said Crowley. “We adapted to that at the start, so nothing was a surprise.”
Here are three other features of the new barn:
Crowley said the barn is designed around the sand bedding.
“It was never going to be anything else,” he said. “The sand is phenomenal. It stays cool in the summer, warm in the winter. There’s no bruised hocks, no hocks with swelling. Sand is a little harder out in the manure pit. We’ll have to handle that out there obviously. But the cows love it.”
The combination of sand and robots has another benefit: A huge drop in the somatic cell count. Crowley has a 13-year-old cow that was around the million mark for somatic cell count. That cow calved in March and was going through the robot five times a day when she was fresh. Her somatic cell count is now below 150,000 while the herd average is below 100,000.
Mastitis cases are rare and cows aren’t slipping thanks to the sand and the grooved cement.
The Crowleys went with Secco airbag curtains. The curtain is hooked together, and little fans blow up each section of the curtain like a balloon. The curtains make the barn five to seven degrees warmer in the winter and are also very quiet.
The Crowleys installed six 20-foot Big Ass fans and two 24-foot fans.
“I wanted lots of air for the cows in this barn in the summer,” he said. “So far it’s been absolutely beautiful. There’s no hot spots. The cows lie down all through the barn and don’t hover to one spot.”
It was taking two people 2.5 hours to milk 106 cows in the old tie-stall using automated takeoffs on a track system. The Crowleys want to eventually get to milking 175 to 200 cows, something that would have been too labour intensive in a tie-stall.
With the labour savings, the farmers spend more time on other aspects of the farm. Show heifers are kept in another barn and the tie-stall was converted into a calf nursery. The farm also does a lot of embryo transfer work and cash crops 1,500 acres.
“It gives a whole lot better lifestyle,” said Crowley. “There’s no pressure in the morning to get there as early as you have to milk those cows at 5:30 in the morning. It’s life altering, there’s no question.”