Saturday, June 1, 2013

Berks County, Pa. dairy producer to speak
at global Precision Dairy Expo in Minnesota
 
By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, May 31, 2013 

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – During the House Ag Committee’s farm bill markup earlier this month, Congressman Chris Gibson of New York said the average age of farmers is 57.
 
“We are going to have to inspire a whole new generation of farmers,” he said.
 
That’s no easy task in the dairy sector, where long hours and tight margins can weigh heavily on future career decisions. Most dairy producers say they love what they do because they enjoy working with the animals and the land, and that they love the people in this industry, or they simply like being their own boss. Even those who love doing the milking, may not love the rigid schedule and wear-and-tear that comes with it.
 
It will be another year until the current Census of Agriculture is published, but by the looks of the last Census in 2007, dairy farm operators as a subset of all farmers were at an average age of 52. What is more concerning is that the number of dairy farm operators under age 45 dropped from 35% in 2002 to 28% in 2007.
 
Add up the aging factor, uncertainties about labor for large expansions, and the trend of younger folks coming back to dairy farms wanting more flexibility for family living, and the result is a growing number of dairy farm families evaluating robotic technologies for modest expansions.
 
As robotic dairymen like Brad Biehl of Corner View Farm, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, point out, that doesn’t mean there’s no work on the dairy, it just means the work is different -- it’s not tied to a 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. milking.
 
When the Minnesota Milk Producers Association visited Pennsylvania in March, they toured Corner View Farm here in Berks County. Next month fourth generation dairyman Brad Biehl will be in Minnesota to speak at the Precision Dairy Expo and Robotic Milking Conference, where the technologies of robotics, automatic sensors, and precision controls will take center stage.
 
This will be the first time the global event comes to the United States, and the University of Minnesota worked with conference organizers to bring it here.
 
The two-day event is set for June 26 and 27 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota and will kick off with a pre-conference tour of area farms on June 25. 

Keynote conference speakers include Dr. Jeffrey Bewley, who leads research in precision technologies at the University of Kentucky, world renowned nutritionist, Dr. Alex Bach from Spain, as well as Dr. Marcia Endres from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Margit Bak Jensen from Denmark who will be talking about automated feeding of calves. Jack Rodenburg from Canada will share his experiences with robotic milking and what makes it work.
 
Economics is an important part of the discussion, and so the conference will have Dr. Albert DeVries from the University of Florida, well known for his economic modeling work, to give the American perspective on adoption of precision technology while Dr. Henk Hogeveen from the Netherlands will give the European experience. Dr. Ilan Halachmi from Israel, Dr. Ray Nebel from Select Sires, and Dr. Doug Reinemann from the University of Wisconsin will talk about sensors.
 
There will also be four producer panels with a total of 14 producers talking about their experiences with robotic milking, individual cow sensors for activity, temperature and rumination, automated calf feeding, and in-line parlor technology that measures components, progesterone and ketones in every cow at every milking, and more. Well known producers on the program include Doyle Waybright of Mason Dixon Farms in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Jake Peissig of JRP Farms in Dorchester, Wisconsin—recently acclaimed as the highest producing DeLaval robot milked herd in the world.
 
While the panels of speakers will feature these experts from the U.S. and abroad, Brad Biehl’s discussion of Corner View Farm will represent the experiences of a typical family-sized dairy farm in Pennsylvania today and how Brad and his father are utilizing sensor technologies and precision controls to manage the modernized facility and equipment.
 
Before December of 2011, the Biehls were milking 60 cows in a tie-stall barn that was nearing the end of its productive life and was not going to be viable for Brad’s children to grow into, he explains. “I tried to picture the next 25 years,” he says. That brought the realization that a change was necessary.
 
It was Brad’s passion for technology and automation, along with his desire to make dairy farming something his father could do without continued wear and tear on his knees, that inspired the modernization at Corner View two years ago, when the Biehl family was the first in the U.S. to install the one-arm / two-box AMS-Galaxy-USA Astrea 20.20 robotic milking system manufactured by the Netherlands-based Insentec. This system enabled them to cost effectively double their herd size from 60 cows to 120, with less labor.
 
Brad and his wife Brooke are the fourth generation at Corner View, and they work off the farm as Brad’s father and grandfather did. Brad’s parents Dalton and Vickie Biehl own the farm, and Brad and Brooke own the equipment. Together Brad and Dalton manage the herd with automation and information at their fingertips. Dalton enjoys working with the cows and doing field work, but he was interested in robotics to relieve his knees of the milking chore.
 
What is fascinating is that Brad manages the milking and the facility from his iPhone, where he has access to integrated information from multiple sensors and can check any of six camera views at any time. The whole networked system allows Dalton to have access from the computer at home along with several other computers throughout the facility.
 
These decisions resulted in robotic milking today in the free-flow, three-row, 120-stall facility, which has moved the farm forward for the fifth generation -- Blake, 9 and Baxter, 7 -- who are excited to see the transformation.
 
At the Precision Dairy Conference next month, Brad will talk about the AMS-Galaxy-USA Astrea 20.20 system, and he will zero-in on the automatic sensing technologies and cameras that enable him to use precision controls from his iPhone to manage the facility and equipment.
 
In addition to the start up support from Lancaster Dairy Farm Automation based in Lititz, Pa. and Hagerstown, Md., Corner View partnered with Robotic Milking Integrated Solutions (RMIS) to set and achieve goals for their operation. RMIS is a consulting company that provides nutrition and milking advice.
 
In the former tie-stall barn, the herd was milked twice a day and produced an average 62 pounds/cow/day. Eighteen months later, the recent data show that Corner View Farm has 115 to 120 cows milking, automatically, an average of 2.7 to 2.9 times per day, with fresh cows milking more often. The herd is currently milking at 82 pounds/cow/day, which breaks all former production records for the farm, and the family’s original goals.
 
“Our herd is still pretty young,” says Biehl during a visit with Farmshine earlier this month. “About 45% of the herd is first calf heifers and 40% are second lactation with the bulk of those being brought in here last year as first calvers.”
 
A big part of the progress has been that the Galaxy Astrea 20.20 utilizes Saturnus 20.20 software to integrate all the information needed to manage herd health, nutrition and reproduction, and the Biehls can respond to messages about cow heats, health indicators and performance. While Brad accesses the information from his iPhone, Dalton generally uses the computer at home or in the barn.
 
The integrated technology of the Astrea 20.20 was brought to the U.S. from The Netherlands by AMS-Galaxy-USA president Dennis Milhoan. “Producers look to robotic milking as they contemplate the future of their operations for growth and profitability as well as labor,” he says.

“Efficient cow management and the production of high quality milk are two keys for improving cash flow on dairy farms today. We like that the Astrea 20.20 is designed for quality milk production and has low overhead and operating costs, which allows more dairy farmers to consider automatic milking.”
 
As for the presentation next month, Brad notes that conference organizers are interested in how he uses “apps” on his iPhone and the integration of the system at the farm to manage the building’s equipment, cow comfort, lighting, curtains, windows, doors, fans, sprinklers, barn temperature by zones, milk tank cooling, herd health and repro as well as monitoring the milking performance.
 
He even has an optical rain sensor on the roof so he can close curtains from his phone when it signals that rain is coming. Otherwise it can blow in and onto the feed. “I can be in Minnesota and look at my phone and see that it’s raining on the barn roof at home in Pennsylvania,” he says, showing the how the “app” works on his iPhone.
 
As for the family’s goals and the farm’s progress, nothing beats the smiles on the faces of young Blake and Baxter. They are excited about the new direction of their family’s Corner View Farm, and it’s obvious they feel very much a part of it.
 
“Instead of having a facility that is declining, we now have a facility that will continue growing and be viable for our children,” says Brad.
 
PHOTO CATIONS

Precision6754(Cornerview)
 
Corner View Farm has been home to dairy cows since 1915 when Brad’s great grandfather began farming. Today, Brad’s own children Blake and Baxter have seen the photos and heard the stories told by Brad’s grandfather Leroy, who grew up farming with mules. They know the history of how each generation has doubled the herd and made some changes. And they are excited to see the transformation of their family’s dairy today. The Biehls cost-effectively doubled their herd size from 60 cows to 120 milking robotically with the one-arm/two-box Galaxy Astrea 20.20. Brad will be in Rochester, Minnesota June 26-27 as a speaker at the Precision Dairy Expo and Robotic Milking Conference. This is the first time the global conference will be held in the U.S. Pictured are second generation dairyman Leroy Biehl (center) flanked by his son Dalton and daughter-in-law Vickie on the right and their son Brad and his wife Brooke on the left with their children representing the fifth generation Blake, 9, and Baxter, 7.
 
 
Precision6763(Cornerview) using 6768 smaller as an inset photo?
 
“Precision technologies are tools to help the small farm stay viable into the next century and allow the next generation to enjoy life while doing it,” says Brad. He and his father use these tools to manage their dairy operation 24/7 from wherever they are. Brad will talk about that at the Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, Minnesota next month.
 

Precision6773(Cornerview)
 
Corner View Farm represents the typical family dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Their robotic facility was completed in December 2011 and the precision controls used by the third and fourth generation will be the topic of Brad Biehl’s presentation at the Precision Dairy Expo in Minnesota next month.
 
Precision6516(Cornerview) or Precision6717(Cornerview)
 
At Corner View Farm, cows eat, drink, lie down, and milk when they please. Recent data show the 115 to 120 cow herd milks automatically an average 2.8 times per day and is producing 82 pounds/cow/day. With the Galaxy Astrea 20.20, one robotic arm can serve two stalls and twice as many cows because the arm does not stay under the cow during the milking. It preps and attaches. Once that’s done, the arm switches to prep the cow in the other box while the cow in the first box is milking. Inflations detach one by one, automatically, as milk flow in each quarter diminishes. A post-dip wand pops up to finish the job.

 


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