By Tom Collins
LISTOWEL — The first few weeks in a new freestall barn have gone much better than anticipated for brothers Dave and Doug Johnston.
The Listowel-area farmers are now milking 70 cows with two Lely A5 robots after the cows moved into the new barn on Dec. 17.
“We expected to spend a lot of time in the barn and pushing a lot of cows (into the milker),” said Doug. “After two or three days, they were basically on their own. We’re ahead of expectations of where we thought we should be. We’re already producing more milk than we thought.”
It’s normal for production to dramatically drop after moving into a new barn as cows get used to new bedding, milking and feeding systems. While many farmers say it could take six months to a year before production is back to normal, the cows at the Johnstons’ barn are already near where they used to be. Last April, the cows were averaging 40 litres daily in the farm’s tie-stall barn before being moved to another farm while the new barn was built. Four weeks after moving in to the new barn, the cows were already at 38 litres.
The fifth-generation farmers, cropping 1,600 acres, built the barn to ease the punishment on their bodies — after 30 years of milking in a tie-stall, Dave’s hip was bothering him and Doug was having issues with his knees. But they also built with an eye to the future. The two brothers and their wives have seven children between them (Dave and his wife have four), ranging from 13 to 19 years old. And as it stands, most of the growing brood say they want to run the farm. They all have a keen interest in agriculture, Doug said. “We either had to invest into the future or look at getting out.”
Doug said he and his brother can manage the new barn for the next 10-15 years while the kids go to school and get jobs elsewhere before coming back to the farm. By that time, some of the kids may have changed their minds or find themselves in different situations because of their spouses.