MARSHALLVILLE, Ohio — Technology and innovation go hand in hand at L&R Dairy in Ohio’s Wayne County.
Despite some of the lowest prices paid for milk in recent history, the farm has made numerous improvements to its operation over the last few years and its owners say efficiency and cow comfort have improved significantly.
Larry Baer and his daughter, Robyn Baer-Hostetler, began using their new double 16 milking parlor in January, a sizable improvement over the double-eight parlor it replaced.
Baer said after decades of use, the double-eight parlor “was falling down all around us.” They milk about 440 head.
“What we can do with that milking parlor is just unbelievable,” he said.
The parlor reads identification tags from each cow’s ear, and allows for computerized monitoring of milk production per cow, and also gives a report on the efficiency of the personnel working in the parlor.
It’s one of many improvements at the farm. Others include new freestall barns and a footbath that was installed a couple years ago. All of the milk cows walk through it, and it helps keep their feet clean and prevent diseases that enter through the foot.
The farm was featured as the destination for the county’s 2007 Twilight Dairy Tour, and has continued to reinvest at a steady pace.
The newest freestall barn has freshening pens, which allows heifers and cows to be penned for up to 30 days.
Baer-Hostetler, who spent several years as a licensed practical nurse, said the freshening pens help reduce stress on fresh cows. She handles much of the veterinary work on the farm, keeping records inside a new veterinary room, also built inside the barn.
The father-daughter duo also use as much recycled water as they can, and use a coal burner to heat the hot water lines and other places where hot water and heat are needed.
The coal is bought per semi-truck load, and is gravity-fed to the fire, with easy access through a stove door.
“That’s (coal burner) probably my dad’s pride and joy,” Baer-Hostetler said.
Several local companies have helped the Baers modernize their facility, including W.G. Dairy and Hill’s Supply. Ratta Applied Construction and Stein-Way Equipment built the freestall barn and its gate structure.
Dean Stoller, a salesman for W.G. Dairy, said most dairy farmers making investments today are looking at the long-term picture. He expects the market lows will eventually improve, as the market cycle continues its course.
Stoller said the coal burner, like other improvements, is “just another economic decision where it costs more initially, but the payback down the road is very significant.”
Asked what the next project will be, Baer-Hostetler said “there’s always something that you need,” and mentioned she’d like to build a cemented area for feeding, maybe replace some equipment and eventually update the dry cow facility.
But for now, she and her father are just happy to have a new parlor — one that is structurally sound, and efficient.
“The main thing with the new parlor is just efficiency with your personnel. They’re (milkers) a lot more cow comfortable and employee comfortable,” she said.