By Tom Collins
NORWICH — Loyalty to one brand helped a Western Ontario dairy farmer win GEA’s 2017 Project of the Year Award for all of North America.
A few years ago, Remko Steen of Steenholl Dairy Farm at Norwich in Norfolk County wanted to build a new dairy barn as his old 25-year-old barn was at capacity and the youngstock barn was at least 45 years old.
“They were in need of a major overhaul,” he said. “We were lucky (the youngstock barn) was still standing.”
Steen, who has been a GEA client for 25 years, said there was never any doubt he was going to continue to use his local GEA dealership, Performance Dairy Centre at Embro.
Steen switched from a double-eight herringbone to a double-12 parallel parlour. As usual with a new build, the first week was “hell,” said Steen, who milks twice a day. It took cows a few days to get used to a new 90-degree turn in the parallel parlour, and production dropped after the April 18, 2017 move-in. The cows had to go through a whole lactation to get back to normal. Production is now at 37 litres, up slightly from 36 litres just before the move. Steen hopes to be at 38-40 litres by winter.
It used to take three hours to milk 135 cows in the old 86-ft.-by-220-ft. barn. Now it takes one hour, 40 minutes to milk 170 cows in the new 264-ft.-by-135-ft. barn.
Cutting milking time almost in half while milking more cows means Steen now spends more time with his wife, Shannon, and four boys. He also spends more time on herd management.
“Milking is a minor job now where it used to be a major job,” he said.
The farm was only the second one in Canada to install the new GEA Apollo MilkSystem. When the milker comes off the cows’ teats, the automatic system dips the teats with an iodine solution. The Apollo also sanitizes the milking units after each cow, which reduces the chance for mastitis-causing pathogens from being spread from cow to cow. GEA says the Apollo reduces labour and improves milk quality.
The six-row freestall barn also has an outside feed alley, which Steen says is unique in Ontario for a parlour. This system keeps the sand-bedded stalls from getting wet when it rains, and it keeps the cows away from the sunshine on hot days. The parlour is also located at the front of the barn, which makes it easy for milking and not a far walk for the cows.
“We went from an old dungeon to a huge bright wide open spaced barn,” said Steen. “I’m really enjoying now milking in a parallel. I’ll never go back to a herringbone.”