Loyal farm modernizes without expanding
LOYAL – The Abel family at Loyal wanted to modernize their dairy as they bring new generations into the business. They did not, however, want to expand and add cows to the herd in the process.
Kyle Abel, who joined his parents Perry and Julie Abel in the business after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Farm and Industry Short Course, says he worries about over-production that hurts the milk price for all producers and could put some out of business.
The family ships their milk through Land ‘O Lakes but it is then in turn sold to Grassland Dairy not too far from the Abel’s farm. When many dairy producers in Wisconsin received letters from Grassland indicating they could no longer buy their milk, Kyle worried about what that meant for all dairy producers in the state in the future.
He says, “We were assured our contract will be honored but I do believe we as dairy producers need to look at ways to control production and produce only what the market can use.”
The family recently invested in a DeLaval VMS robotic milking system. They built a new cross-ventilated freestall barn to house 126 cows that utilize the two robots in the barn.
The remaining 185 cows at Abel Acres are milked in the flat barn parlor that the family had previously built in their former stall barn.
Kyle says, “We have been using the robots for nine months and it seems to be working out very well. When we built this we set it up so we could add two more robots, likely next year.”
They put in a bulk tank twice the size they would have needed for the two robots. They constructed the building with the idea of adding an identical building next to it for the additional robot-cows.
He says, “When we do that we will move cows over from the parlor. We will not add cows to our herd.”
That’s not to say that the family has not been increasing their milk production steadily.
Kyle points out that improvements in genetics, the availability of sexed semen and good quality feed has added to their production significantly. Cows in the robot barn also went up in production with the system.
He notes, “We’re steadily improving the quality of our milk, too. We were always happy that we were able to maintain a 73,000 somatic cell count in the parlor but the cows in the robotic barn have averaged 23,000.”
The barn includes an automatic scraping system and cows are relaxed and content and enjoy the opportunity to go through the robot where they get a special treat.
Getting robotic milking was actually Kyle’s mother’s idea.
Julie Abel says she had an opportunity to see a robotic system a few years ago and then set out to investigate different systems. After visiting a farm at Dorchester that has used the system for several years they were convinced it is the way to go.
Julie continues to monitor the activities in the parlor and helps her son monitor the robotic barn. The farm is run by a staff of nine, which is mostly family.
A family tradition
The Abel family purchased their original farm in 1958. At that time, it was a small family dairy farm milking 35 cows in addition to raising young stock.
They started out with 300 acres of land, of which only 110 was tillable. Being able to raise all of their own feed, the farm grew steadily through the years.
Perry Abel, one of four children, remained on the farm. He and Julie were married in 1981 and together they purchased the farm in 1994. At that time, the farm was milking 135 cows and cropping 450 acres of land. They have continuously strived for top production to lower costs by working closely with farm professionals.
Perry and Julie’s goal has always been to remain a family farm yet be modern and efficient for themselves and their work family.
Today they milk a total of 335 cows and crop 875 acres.
When the family hosted the Loyal FFA Farm Breakfast on June 18, they found a larger-than-usual crowd taking advantage of the opportunity to see a working dairy.
The event drew many non-farmers as well. Many people who spend their weekends camping in the area or passing through on vacation take the opportunity to enjoy farm breakfasts.
Geri Harris lives in the city of Milwaukee but was in the area for a weekend music festival. She was amazed to see how modern the dairy farm is and she was impressed by the modern technology employed on the farm. Like other dairy breakfast visitors from urban areas, she said this farm is different than the image she has had of dairy farms.
The Loyal FFA breakfast, held on Father's Day weekend each year, attracts many non-farmers who are in the area attending a weekend music festival. These visitors find the breakfast on the farm refreshing and more enjoyable than eating in restaurants as they travel.
The Abels said it was an honor to invite so many guests to their farm because there is so much misinformation out in the public about dairy farming and a breakfast like this is an opportunity to show that farm families place an emphasis on cow comfort and producing quality milk.
Julie Abel says, “We feel honored to work with the land, the cows, and our team for three generations as well as being able to share our farm with visitors.”