Dairy farmers, Brent and Kirsty Oswald have been chosen as Manitoba’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2017.
Brent, 35 and Kirsty, 31 operate Cottonwood Holsteins Ltd., a third-generation mixed grain and dairy farm near Steinbach. The Oswalds milk 140 cows and seed just under 2,500 acres of grain land. Their focus has always been on getting better before getting bigger. They have focused on investing in equipment to boost efficiencies.
After the Oswalds installed a robotic milking system in 2009, they took the additional step of automating the feeding system as well. Their cows are fed forage 10 times a day though an automated feeding panel and receive their grain through six computer feeder stations. Each cow is allotted their grain amount based on milk production and body condition. The system has also helped eliminate any issues with social structure in the barn. “The more dominant cows aren’t competing with the weaker cows for feed because they are all being fed often,” says Brent.
The Oswalds continue to tweak the system striving for more efficiencies. Earlier this year they installed a body condition scoring camera, which takes a picture of the cows every time they pass through a sort gate. “Once I familiarize myself with the data collected, I will use it to make better breeding and feeding decisions,” says Brent. “We will have healthier animals in the barn, because we can target animas that are losing or gaining too much. I will be able to assess which cows are in a body condition state that will allow them to get pregnant, so I can make more informed breeding decisions.”
Brent’s passion for farming is obvious, as is what he calls his “addiction” to doing things better. “I love the thrill of figuring out that next step,” he says. “If the farm stayed the same size and I ran the same equipment and worked with the same status quo, I don’t know if it would be that enjoyable. I would almost feel like I failed because I hadn’t figured out how to do something better.”
Kirsty isn’t as involved in the day-to-day farm operations these days, keeping busy with their nine-year-old daughter, Taylor and six-year-old son, Brenden. Meanwhile, Brent continues to find ways to make maximize efficiency.
“We are always in a growth mode but I would rather check off all the boxes before we expand,” says Brent. “It’s usually cheaper to do a better job at what you are already doing than to add on.”
That said, the couple do plan to double the dairy herd to 280 and expand the barn within five years, but they are taking the same measured approach they always have.
“We are going to start planning for that this winter,” says Brent. “We’ll look at how we can automate more operations, so when we do double the barn it won’t increase the workload. If we are going to be feeding more cows we will need more feed and manure storage, so we’re going to look at making those steps first.”
The Oswalds are among seven regional OYF nominees from across Canada who will be competing in the OYF national awards event in Penticton, B.C., from November 29 to December 3, 2017.