By Connor Lynch
BRUSSELS — A three-robot operation that likes to keep its animals bored with their feed is Western Ontario’s best-managed herd.
The annual ranking of 7,000 producers by CanWest DHI put Haag Farms Inc., a 150-head operation at Brussels, in Huron County, as one of Canada’s top 25 best-managed herds and the best-managed herd in Canada west of Toronto.
He’s not the best in Ontario. That distinction goes to Eastern Ontario’s Heidi Farms. The Haags are second. They were Ontario’s best-managed herd last year. The annual ranking is determined by points allocated for milk production, udder health, reproduction, heifer rearing and longevity.
Roger Haag, whose Swiss-immigrant father started the farm in the early 1990s, has stuck with a simple, consistent breeding pattern for the farm’s purebred animals. “We basically just breed for old cows.”
To the point, he wants a healthy, high-producing animal that will last a long time. Genomic changes over the last 10 years haven’t modified his basic plan, which has been consistent over the last 20 years. Haag keeps it simple and likes breeding. He doesn’t rely much on computer programs that suggest bulls, preferring to rely on his own judgment. “It’s somewhat of a hobby,” he said.
Haag and his wife Karen built a new barn three-and-a-half years ago. The new operation, complete with three robots and sand bedding, was slow to produce results, as most new barns are. Somatic cell counts have dropped and swollen hocks have all but disappeared. The extra floor traction helps makes it easier for Haag to spot a cow that’s ready to be bred. The cows are happily mounting one another when they’re in heat. And of course, the critical factor: production has increased.
Sand, however, has its downsides. It wears on everything, including the milking robots but especially the manure system. “When you make the decision to go to sand, you’re doing it 100 per cent for cows.”
The Haags’ nutrient strategy has a similar pedigree to his breeding. He’s been working with the same nutritionist for 20 years on a simple ration: Small amount of straw for fibre, alfalfa and corn silage as the main components, high-moisture corn and a supplement from the feed mill.
“We focus on quality and consistency” and they try not to tinker with it if they don’t have to. Cows seem to thrive on same-old, same-old, he said. The more boring, the better.