By Brandy Harrison
MOOSE CREEK — When Tom and Kathrin Speck took the reins of the dairy herd from his parents Josef and Theres in 2012, it wasn’t long before they started sketching the broad strokes of a total overhaul.
“Things look really good on paper but you don’t know how it’s going to go until you’re in the barn,” says Kathrin, 29. But herding the cows across the road to a new $2.3-million barn has paid off. “It’s nice to go into the barn and see our cows happy. It’s very quiet. Nobody is bawling and the cows are lying down, chewing their cud.”
The Aug. 25 changeover couldn’t have gone better. The Moose Creek dairy farmers culled only a few older cows and within five days were down to only three people in the barn at milking.
“It was easier than anybody told us to expect. That’s for sure,” says Tom, 42.
With plenty of crop and custom work and Kathrin keen to be hands-on at milking, Kemmatten Farms Inc. opted for a 12-unit swing parlour with an AFI metering system.
While they saved as much as $100,000 over a double-12 parlour, the real selling point was one person could milk one-half hour faster than three people in the tie-stall. The holding area is big enough for the whole herd and every cow is milked the same way.
Even with nearly 70 per cent first-lactation cows, the herd has made slow and steady gains, up four litres to 33 litres per cow per day in a few months’ time.
Part of the boost can be chalked up to more ration consistency with a TMR mixer and a JOZ robotic feed pusher that makes the rounds 15 times per day, which has led to a one-third increase in feed intake.
There was a lot more feed in the alley and milk dipped when the feed pusher went down for two days, Tom says. “We missed it pretty quick.”
Zeroing in on dry and fresh cow management by tweaking rations has also improved body condition and production.
“They’re milking more, longer. Some of the milk weights we have now, we’d never seen in the old barn. It’s pretty exciting,” Kathrin says.
Here are a few features that will stand out at the March 4 open house.
New barn: More room, pine beams
The old tie-stall, which had its last major facelift more than 30 years ago, was jam-packed with all 84 milking stalls full and 30 bred heifers kept outside.
“If we wanted to move forward, we needed to do something,” Tom says.
The 110 by 270 ft. freestall barn was built for 130 milking cows along with calves and heifers, with enough space for a 250 to 300 ft. addition. The WOLF System barn with laminated pine beams was prefabricated in Germany and finished in just six months.
“The whole barn showed up in containers. It’s built like it could last 100 years,” Tom says.
Barn within a barn
For calves up to three months old, the Specks carved out a chunk of the southwest corner of the barn for a fully-insulated, 35 by 35 ft. calf barn, complete with automatic calf feeder and a positive pressure ventilation system.
Fresh air for the calves is drawn from the outside five times an hour in the winter and a clear panel along the southern wall lets in natural light.
Cushy quarters: Better lighting, fresh air, deep bedding
The 25 ft. ceilings are capped off with a foot-and-a-half-wide vent that runs the length of the barn’s peak and can open upwards about one foot. Clear plastic panels on either side let natural light stream into the barn, complemented by lights on sensors and timers.
The vent is integrated into an automatic climate control system with 10 ft.-high sidewall curtains and seven 72-inch Ventec fans.
Stalls are bedded with eight to 10 inches of lime and straw, all grown on the farm, that’s refreshed once a week and levelled three times daily. It mimics the comfort of sand and feet and legs are already better, Tom says.
“In the tie-stall on pasture mats we had some swollen hocks and scuffed knees, but that’s all disappeared.”
About one-third of the bottom of each steel Jourdain stall divider is a flexible pipe. The Cowflex dividers help cows ease in and out of the deep-bedded stalls.
Getting their fresh start was a community effort. About 15 to 20 people turned up to move cows and start milking in the new parlour. The biggest pat on the back was neighbours’ reactions, Tom says. “One of them said to me, ‘There’s only one problem with this barn.’ I looked at him and he said, ‘It’s not at my place.’”