For Everything There is a Season

Isn’t that the truth? It’s possible nobody understands the seasonality of life quite like farmers. From planting to harvest, seasons in farming are distinct. So are seasons in the life of your business. My husband and I are fourth-generation farmers by pedigree and first-generation dairy farmers by practice. When we started our dairy, Scott and I did everything on our own. Now, we have a handful of full-time employees. We used to milk every shift and now a good chunk of my husband’s time is spent managing people.

A friend recently told me the story of one specific cow on his dairy. Cow #176. He started milking #176 in a small tiestall when he first returned to his family’s dairy farm in upstate New York. Seeking to expand, he built a swing-six parlor. To say this barn was basic, is possibly the understatement of the century. Next, our friend went into a partnership with a neighboring farm and cow #176 moved into a double-20 parallel parlor. At the beginning of October, cow #176 set foot on a 72-stall rotary.

From a tiestall to a rotary this cow has experienced an array of milking systems in her lifetime. You know what? They all served her well. While the tiestall, swing-six and even parallel might not have fit the growth goals our friend had set out for his business, those facilities served their purpose during those seasons.

That’s no different on other farms across the U.S. Maybe you’re currently milking in a tiestall and want to move into a parlor. Maybe you’re in a herringbone, straight barn or a trigon and want to transition to a parallel or rotary. Every dairy’s needs are different. On some farms, the economics of a robotic system make the most sense. As with milking systems, technology continues to advance in the parlor. Last spring I visited a farm in California with a robotic arm that predips and postdips cows on a rotary system. Farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin are using a new brush that cleans teats as part of the prep routine. Technology for tiestall barns is evolving too. A new mobile app helps farmers using those milking systems to keep accurate records.

In the current economic climate, it might seem out of reach to transition to a new facility. That’s a decision you need to discuss with your banker. But, as you evaluate new milking systems and parlor tools, I’d encourage you to learn as much as you can about new technology. Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for your farm. Maybe a tiestall makes the most sense for your business in this season, maybe not. For everything there is a season.

Note: This story appeared in the November issue of Dairy Herd Management.