Tuesday, April 3, 2012

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, March 23, 2012

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Ever since 1915 when Ammon Biehl began farming near here in Berks County, the family has had dairy cows. Five generations later, young Baxter, 6, and Blake, 8, are watching a transformation take place at Corner View Farm. They have seen the photos and heard the stories told by great-grandfather LeRoy about farming with mules and how each generation has doubled the herd and made some changes.

Now the decisions by their grandparents, Dalton and Vickie, and parents, Brad and Brooke, propel Corner View into the 21st century with a new kind of milking robot for 120 cows.

In December, the Biehl family began milking in the new free-flow, three-row, 120-stall robotic milking facility equipped with the Galaxy Astrea 20.20 AMS system consisting of one industrial strength dual-action robotic arm milking up to 130 cows in a two-stall set up.

The Biehl family will have an open house at their Corner View Farm on Tuesday, April 3 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to tour the robotic milking facility built by E&F Ag Systems and financed by Susquehanna Bank. They will also get to see the Galaxy Astrea 20.20 -- installed by Lancaster Dairy Farm Automation -- in action. The Astrea 20.20 AMS technology was brought to the U.S. from The Netherlands by Dennis Milhoan, president of AMS-Galaxy-USA, and Corner View Farm is home to the first Astrea 20.20 robot operating in the United States.

"We’re up over 100 cows through the robot, and getting milked an average 2.6 times per day. We’ll be at 120 cows (milking with one robotic arm) by the end of the month," said Brad Biehl during an interview at the farm on March 10. In fact, during the two-hour afternoon interview, the robot served a steady stream of calm cows on both sides. Cows could be found lying down, eating the main TMR at the feed rail, snacking at the Insentec snack station, grooming themselves at the rotating brush, or making their way to the robot for milking.

After just three months of transition from the old tie-stall into the new facility, the herd has nearly doubled in size, average milk output per cow per day has increased by 14%, somatic cell counts have decreased to an average 240,000, and the cows get milked an average 2.6 times per day by visiting the robot.

"It’s unbelievable, to tell you the truth," says LeRoy, recalling how years and years ago, a new barn cleaner with a chain was something new to see on a farm tour. LeRoy milked 28 cows in his day. "I like that the farm is continuing," he added.

Dalton, who went from milking 30 cows to 60 by converting his dad’s bed pack to tie-stalls, says: "I was just standing still in that old barn, and I would never have dreamed this." He also noted that everyone refers the robot, affectionately, as Millie -- in remembrance of Dalton’s late mother (LeRoy’s wife).

It was Dalton’s son Brad who brought the inspiration for this new direction at Corner View, and his experience as a project manager was helpful as he coordinated a team of ideas into the design features of this unique facility. Dalton and Brad had visited other farms, including the famous Hoards Dairy in Wisconsin. Brad also went to Holland and Canada to see the Galaxy Astrea 20.20 in action.

"Everywhere we went, we picked up an idea of what to do -- and what not to do," Dalton reflects. One thing Dalton wanted was to have special needs and fresh cows in the same facility and have a way to milk them right there. Cow flow is designed to be as hands-off as possible, but very flexible. Dalton and Brad are able to manage the herd closely through integrated information systems. Not only can Dalton and Brad view the operation and see stats on how the cows are doing from their home computers, Brad also receives information through his smart phone. The system will communicate a cow in heat to his phone so he can call the breeder, for example.

While Dalton acknowledges the first few weeks and months of any transition are always stressful, the family pulled together and made it happen. They say the folks from Lancaster Dairy were very helpful in the transition. Even the youngest Biehls were part of the long hours in the barn during that first few weeks of getting cows used to their new home and new routine.

"Now, it’s going smooth, and I can see what’s happening even when I’m not in the barn," says Dalton. "I’m still busy, but I don’t have the daily milking wear-and-tear on my knees and I’m not tied to a milking schedule."

But it’s the smiles on the faces of Blake and Baxter that say it all. They are excited about the new direction of Corner View Farm, and it’s obvious they feel very much a part of it.

"Instead of having a facility that is declining, we have a facility that will continue growing and be viable for our children," Brad relates.

Join the Biehl family and Corner View Farm project vendors at the April 3 Open House at 1022 Baldy Road, Kutztown, Pa. See pages 20 and 21 for open house details, and look for an in-depth feature on this unique facility and the Biehl family in a future edition of Farmshine.

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The Biehl family -- Brad and Brooke (left) and Dalton and Vickie (right) and the youngest members Blake (left) and Baxter -- welcome visitors to the open house at Corner View Farm, Kutztown, Pa. next week on Tuesday, April 3.


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