The annual BC Dairy Expo Farm Tours provides farmers a unique opportunity to see new technologies and farm advancements in action, and to see all the facets of an operating dairy farm in British Columbia. Dale Jerseys in Mission and Gracemar Farms in Chilliwack generously hosted lunch on their farms for all attendees. We had the opportunity to connect with owner of Dale Jerseys, Robert Dale and ask him a few questions about his farm and this year's tours.
1. How long have you been a dairy farmer?
I was born on this farm, and have been involved since I was old enough to pick up a pitchfork. My grandfather started the farm in 1921, and my father took over from him.
2. Is this your first time hosting a farm tour?
No, we hosted one in 1998 for our new heifer barn, so this is our second time.
3. What convinced you to sign-up to become a host this year?
It is part of our annual tradition to go around and look at the farms on the tour, and I always appreciate the opportunity to pick up new ideas, many of which we incorporated into the new barn. This year it was pay-back time, and we're happy to have others be able to do the same.
4. What technological or animal care updates have you made to your farm?
Two DeLaval robotic milkers; gel mattresses; flexible green feed fence; alley drain system; flush flume manure transfer system; LED lighting, free heater for heat transfer from the milk to heat water as the milk cools; partial rubber flooring; Silikal floor coating in robot rooms, dairy and along feed alley surface; robot feed pusher; added a second rotating cow brush; electric curtain walls; large fans; TLC sort group area and extra maternity pens; elevated people walkway in front of free stalls, for convenient herd observation.
5. Why did you make these changes?
The old barn was running low on space as a result of recent quota increases and other factors. Some of the equipment was also becoming worn-out and in need of updating. Cow comfort and health was a big priority, and we wanted to have a more flexible family schedule. Many features also improve convenience for the farmer/herdsman. We have only been milking with the robots for about four weeks, but have already seen about a 10% increase in production. The majority of the cows are very eager to use the robots and milk quality has been very good.
6. What sort of feedback have you received from visitors?
Feedback was positive. Most people liked the bright, open barn with lots of light, and the fact that the cows looked clean, comfortable and relaxed.
7. What is your favourite thing about dairy farming?
I enjoy looking at happy, comfortable cows. I also enjoy field-work (when the weather and machinery are cooperating). I very much like the challenge of trying new things and experimenting with new ideas and technologies. I also like being able to work at home and be near family.
8. Where do you see the dairy industry in 20 years?
There will always be consumers who want top quality, locally-produced dairy products. As long as we can provide this in a sustainable and socially-responsible way (ie: attention to animal welfare, etc), there will be a future for the dairy industry.