Nicole Brousseau figures her husband Richard walked their dairy herd through every corner of their new northeast Alberta dairy barn at least 1,000 times (in his head) before they even began construction of the barn, which was completed and put into service in March.
The 72’x160′ loose housing structure that connects to a double seven herringbone milking parlor is working well for the Brousseaus at Moo-Lait Family Farm at St. Paul, Alta., and the cows didn’t miss a beat either.
“We are happy with every aspect of the barn,” says Richard. “Everything works as well as we had planned.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that Richard visualized the movement of cattle through this barn, I don’t know how many times, before we even started building,” says Nicole. “We considered a lot of plans and we really wanted to make it functional.” And the transition of bringing the cows into the new barn for the first milking March 18 was flawless too. They had brought the cows into the barn a couple of times before it was completely finished for a bit of a rehearsal. The cows seemed to be as ready for the move to the new barn as the Brousseaus.
The Brousseaus who along with their three children farm in partnership with Nicole’s parents, Bert and Yvonne Poulin, were earlier this year named the 2014 Outstanding Young Farmer nominees for Alberta. They will be in Quebec City later this month competing in the national awards program.
Building the new loose housing barn, that replaced a long-standing and outdated tie-stall facility, is an important milestone for the dairy farm.
“It really gives us a new starting point in the growth of the dairy,” says Richard. “We had maxed out our old facilities and now we have some room to growth, and this new barn is easily expanded as needed.”
The Brousseaus returned to the farm part time in 2006 working towards being full time dairy farmers in 2008. Nicole was born and raised on the farm, and later went to Lakeland College in Vermillion. Richard was born on a Vermillion-area grain and hog operation. They both attended and later worked at Lakeland College before deciding in 2006 to get involved in the dairy business along with Nicole’s parents.
In 2006 they were milking about 25 head. As Nicole and Richard got involved they bought their own cows and quota and began to increase the milking herd. Along with increasing numbers, they’ve also worked to improve the overall quality and genetics of the cattle.
Today they are milking 50 head. The new loose housing barn was initially designed to handle a 60 head herd. When they started milking cows about eight years ago, production averaged about 18 kilograms of milk per cow per day. And today production is averaging 30 kilograms per cow per day.
“It is a combination of several things that have made a difference,” says Richard. There is no natural service now, the cows are all bred to top sires through A.I. and cows are all selected for type and production characteristics.
They also produce most of the ingredients used in a dairy ration that is milled and prepared on farm. Along with a high forage component, they buy dry distillers grain and a custom mineral premix for the ration. And as a main protein source for the milking herd they have replaced canola meal, with pea meal, from the pea crop they produce.
“Working with a nutritionist, we aim to have a ration that optimizes production but is high in forages and doesn’t push the cows too hard,” says Richard. “We want to increase milk production, but we also want healthy cows with some longevity and that starts with a healthy rumen.”
Along with the dairy, the Brousseau’s crop about 1,000 acres of deeded and rented land producing barley, peas, oats and alfalfa. The new loose housing barn has been perhaps the most visible change in the operation in recent years, but they’ve also made changes that include switching crop production from conventional to minimum tillage, soil testing to better manage crop fertility program, and good rotations.
While they are still getting comfortable with the new barn, plans eare to increase the milking herd (and quota) to 60 head, and then to focus on optimizing the milk production of those cattle.
“And machinery-wise, for the amount of cropping we do, we have always operated with used equipment, and we plan to continue with that,” says Nicole. “But we also want to look at replacing or refreshing some of this equipment as well.”
Along with farming, they are actively involved in school and outside activities with their three children. Nicole is involved with the school council church programs, while Richard is a vice-chair of the St. Paul seed cleaning plant and vice-president of the archery club. Both Richard and Nicole will be members of the advisory committee to the Lakeland College animal science program this year.