Coordinator's Note: Dairy Exec is starting a new feature in 2014 in which we interview growth-minded dairy producers about unique challenges they have faced on their dairies. Our first Producer Profile spotlights Amy Martin of Gingrich Meadows Dairy in LeRoy, Mich.
If you're in this business long enough, you'll reach a fork in the road when a critical management decision must be made. For Amy Martin — who owns and operates Gingrich Meadows Dairy in LeRoy, Mich., along with her brother, Shawn Gingrich — that moment came just a few short years ago. It was time to build a new barn, but was robotic technology the right move for their dairy?
Martin, a firm believer in planning and researching big business decisions, spent a year gathering intel. They traveled extensively both within the United States and in Europe to research barn design and management styles, complete with an entourage that included their veterinarian, nutritionists and Extension specialists. The team brainstormed and evaluated impacts on labor savings, cow comfort and energy conservation. They put pencil to paper, making cash flow projections out as far as 18 months.
"With robots, we were able to double our herd, but reduce labor by half," Martin says. "This savings paid nearly one-third of the payment for the expansion. It allowed us more flexibility with our schedules and more family time, spending more time with the cows and less on employee issues."
In the end, they decided to purchase two GEA MIone four-box robotic milking systems. Gingrich Meadows Dairy opened its new facility in April of 2012 and now milks more than 320 Holsteins with the systems — though the setup can handle as many as 450 cows, she notes.
After going through such a thorough research process, Martin feels confident in the choice they made.
"Every farm is different, so I recommend everyone research and talk to other farmers who use the new technology — not just the vendor — and find out if it fits their operation," she adds.
For more on making critical management and capital investment decisions, see "New technology can be capital, decision intensive" in the February 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management.