By Tom Collins
CARRYING PLACE — A Prince Edward County farmer has always been a fan of three times a day milking but said finding and retaining part-time help was too problematic.
“The turnover was incredible,” said Gerald Pulver, who runs Goreland Farms with his wife, Dineen, son Jarrod and daughter Ashley at Carrying Place, about 20 minutes west of Belleville. “The last-minute decision that they’re not coming to work was unbearable, because you get a call or a text message at quarter-to-four in the morning and they’re supposed to be here for four: ‘Can you get someone to cover my shift?’ I’m like ‘how is that happening?’ I end up doing it all myself. Lots of people want big wages but don’t work real hard.”
The frustration with the part-time employees led Pulver to a full-time solution of installing three Lely robotic milkers to replace the double-8 herringbone parlour. Each milking used to take three people about 2.5 hours, and Pulver would work at least two of the milkings. He had six part-time employees. He now has one. He says if he didn’t install the robots, he would have been forced to do two-times-a-day milking.
The 160 cows moved in last August, and are now averaging 3.1 milkings per day. Since the cows didn’t have to switch barns, bedding or feeding systems, the transition was smoother than many farmers experience when switching to robots. The production remained steady at 40 kg per day per cow for the first three weeks after the switch before dipping down to an average 38 kg. Pulver attributes that drop to feed quality issues from last summer’s crop.
“We’ve never had so many feed ration changes in one winter as we’ve had last winter, just trying to tweak it to get what we want,” he said. “We didn’t have any sunlight last year. Lots of rain and no sunlight doesn’t give you any sugars or carbohydrates in the plants, so cows have a hard time turning that. It doesn’t ferment well in the bunks, and then if you do get it fermented, it just doesn’t have the juice to make her make milk.”
Pulver is hoping the feed from this year’s crop will go a long way to bringing production back to 40 kg by the fall, with an eventual goal of 42 kg.
Goreland Farms’ April 13 open house wasn’t only to show off the new robots. In 2012, the farmers increased the size of the barn from 140 stalls to 260 and also added a compost bedding system. This was the first opportunity for many farmers to see the unique bedding system.
Cow manure is agitated and then put through a separator where much of the water is removed, leaving behind a moisture content of about 64 per cent. The dried manure then enters a cylinder, a Daritech composter, that constantly rotates like the back of cement truck. This heats the manure, killing pathogens that cause diseases and turns it into fluffy, dirt-like compost bedding that is added to the cows’ bedding every day.
Said Pulver: “It’s as comfortable as sand without the grief of sand.”