Wow! I am not even sure how to summarize 2017 for Abiqua Acres! It has been a huge year, with trials but mostly successes. Of course our biggest news is finally transitioning our herd into our new robotic facility. I know I owe some apologies as I have been horrible at updating here on the blog on how everything went. If you were following along on social media, either Facebook or Instagram, you got a much better look. I’ll quickly summarize here in my 2017 Year End Review: Farm.
Last year as I looked back we were honestly expecting to already be robot dairy farmers by 2016. Big projects take, well, a long time! Luckily there were no big hang ups in the construction process, it all just took a bit longer then expected. We were finally ready for cows in the new barn on January 10th. You can read all about their First Week in the Barn. We started milking the first group of cows on January 17th and milked our last group of cows in the old parlor on January 20th. It just happened to be my Dad’s birthday, what a special celebration!
Everyone will you tell you that start up, as it’s called, is a special kind of “challenge”. There were many more colorful words we’ve heard! We were prepared for the worst, but optimistic that our start up would go smoothly. Not to brag, but it went more then smoothly! I don’t think there’s ever been an easier start up! We had a lot of elements working in our favor. Especially similarities to our old parlor that made a huge difference in our success. The Ladies just took naturally to our set up and moved through smoothly. It was so fun to watch them learn the system and just set their own schedules. Cows are intelligent creatures and that is really proven in a robotic facility.
By one week in, things were sailing smoothly. The cows adapted so well and we were happy robot farmers! I know that all sounds rainbows and sunshine and while we couldn’t have asked for a better start, this year has been about learning. We’ve navigated some system issues, that the team worked quickly to solve. A few tiny design change elements. And just overall devoted ourselves to really digging in and learning all we can. It really is a change of management to move out of the parlor and trust the system and all the information the robots provide us.
We are very happy with our decision to move to robotic milking. There has not been a time in the past year that we’ve regretted it! It’s offered our family the lifestyle flexibility that was needed. And exceeded our goals for cow care and comfort. We are looking forward to continuing our learning into the new year and meeting some goals we have for our herd.
That doesn’t mean this past year was without trials. There were definitely days and elements we felt frustrated with. Our current focus is on feeding and getting the partial mix ration just right to meet the needs of the whole herd. Struggling with feeding can be a very frustrating, as it is one of the most important elements. It’s just finding a way to balance all the needs with our goals and a low milk price.
When you hit go, on a project of this size like we did two year ago, there’s no way to predict where your milk paycheck is going to sit. It’s just part of the roller coaster of the milk pricing system. There are high years and low years. This past year, just happened to end up low. Which puts an extra stress on everyone as we transitioned through. It looks like we will continue to weather low prices through the first quarter, at least, of 2018. Just more encouragement for us to be resourceful robot farmers and really dig into learning as much as we can to do on our own.
Prices aside, Mother Nature also choose to throw us for another loop this past year. Instead of drought like in 2015, it started raining October 1st, forcing us to shut the cows in early. Then continued to be record rainfall all through winter and spring. Finally by May 1st, with our winter feed pretty much gone, we had to turn the cows out to pasture. That is the latest turn out to pasture that anyone can remember! It continued to rain for the next month and the soppy conditions presented it’s own grazing challenges. It also meant that by the time we were able to turn out, the grass was already a month ahead of the cows. This meant about 75% of our pastures were going to end up overgrown and just not good feed for dairy cows. We made the decision, for the first time, to bring in a silage crew to get things under control.
The extra month in the barn did allow us to really get the cows tuned into the robots before adding in the element of grazing. Grazing provides it’s own challenges to robotic milking. There are even those who say grazing can’t be accomplished with robots. Taking our cows off pasture was not something we wanted to consider. So we again used this first grazing season as a learning one. I definitely can’t say we have it all figured out, but the cows didn’t completely fail either. Our biggest tool was the pasture exit gate. This gate doesn’t allow cows to go to the pasture that need to be milked. It was so fun, yet again, to watch the cows learn this new element. The Ladies really picked it up quickly!
All the while it was business as usual through it all. The cows continued to make milk and calves. It was exciting to watch production increase just a bit. Shipping 1,390,273lbs or 161,659 gallons this year. Most exciting was our fat test which has sat just below 5%! Getting a few of the trials worked out will really allow us to fine tune and hit some production goals we know our herd is capable of.
We had 40 heifer calves in 2017
Welcome to: Joey, Darleen, Raindance, Nova, Moody, Cathleen, Superb, Better & Best, Secret, Spritz, Jazzin, Blueday, Jakarah, Roadster, Magnolia, Fawcett, Shade, Lilo, Jazztour, Jessenia, Babe, Jordan, Breella, Lullabye, Jinx, Snowdrift, Florence, Mojito, Bentley, Jet, Mesmerized, Alissa, Ida, Jayne, Resolved, Leftovers, Frances, Elranchero and Jubilee.
We also said goodbye to a number of good cows this year. Just seemed to be a year of bad luck for some of our older Ladies. We started out the year with 11 Ladies over 100,000lbs lifetime, a goal we have for all herd. And lost 5 of them in 2017. Our oldest cow Abiqua Acres Lewis Breezy is still going strong and broke a lifetime production record here with 202,244lbs in 9 lactations. She is currently dry and we are looking forward to her starting her 10th lactation in the new year. We love celebrating those productive old cows. Our highest completed ecm milk record went to Abiqua Acres Iceberg Jacky this year with 25,754. With the multiple milkings a day possibility with the robots, it was also exciting to see some cows peaking over 100lbs a day. Abiqua Acres Aarons Marna and Abiqua Acres Toby’s Bluedawn were competing with 120lbs a day for one week this summer. So exciting to see the possibilities with the robots.
This year saw us with two classification dates. Welcoming two new excellents, Abiqua Acres Alstar Lucky and Abiqua Acres Crunch Jellene. We also saw our first Jersey, Riversong Riley Blest, go excellent. Several Ladies also moved into the high 80’s. Abiqua Acres Alstar Jenette, Abiqua Acres Royall Quebec Monita and Abiqua Acres Geo Bree move to VG 88. And at VG 87 this year is Abiqua Acres Aaron Edelman and Abiqua Acres Gary Lillian. It is always fun to watch the herd develop and there are many first lactation cows that have us excited as well. December’s proof run also brought us the excitement of Abiqua Acres Levi’s Jaeger being released as a young sire with Accelerate Genetics. His dam Abiqua Acres Prestique Jesusita still holds such a special place in my heart. Jaeger’s genomic numbers are promising for what he can offer the Guernsey breed. We are proud and pleased to see him released.
I can definitely say it was a big sigh of relief to have our transition into the new barn go so well in 2017. This year was all about learning! I want to give a big thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way. From every farm we visited over the last few years, who helped us to make the decision to go robotic. Many of whom I now consider dear friends and appreciate the opportunity to continue to tap into their knowledge. To every single person who made our dream a reality; DeLaval sales team, who are so much more then salemen and your hours in the barn were so appreciated, the whole Kroes construction team and Northwest Dairy Services, DeLaval installation team and everyone I’m sure I’m forgetting. This year would not have gone as smoothly as it did without the help! Thank You!
Looking back at the 2017 Year End Review: Farm always makes me excited for the future. Here at Abiqua Acres we want to wish you all a very Happy New Year for 2018. May the milk tank be full and prices high, the year healthy for cows and farmers alike, and 2018 a year of prosperity for the whole dairy industry.