Chores had become, well, a “chore” for Rick Mangin and his brother, Florent until 2004, when their investment in a new dairy barn allowed them to double production with the same manpower.
“It was a pleasure doing chores again,” says Rick. “We used to milk 50 cows and with all the chores it would take us five hours a day. Now it still takes us five hours a day but we have doubled the herd.”
It wasn’t just the time savings, but also the reduction in physical wear and tear on the two brothers, who farm near Bruxelles, Manitoba, that has made the biggest difference to them since building the integrated new dairy facility. In their old barn they fed square bales by hand and manually measured and fed TMR rations to the cows. In the new barn, they use a tractor to feed 12 whole round bales in the feed alley every four days. The pre-mixed rations are fed automatically via a computerized system that calculates and allocates a feed amount according to the productivity of each individual animal.
“We have five grain stations in the barn where cows can randomly feed, and a cow that gives more milk will get more grain, so they will get what they deserve,” says Rick. “The computer system records how much milk each cow gives and feeds accordingly.”
And although feed costs are about the same and the average productivity of the cows has increased only slightly (from 33 to 35 litres per cow per day), milk production is much more consistent throughout the year. “With the old barn the cows would be out on grass and would peak around May/June and then drop off in July/August,” says Rick. “With the new barn they are inside all the time and production is more consistent.”
The animals are also much less stressed, adds Rick, because the spacious new barn has a much more relaxed atmosphere.
The Mangin brothers did a lot of homework and visited several modern dairy barns, many of which were in Ontario, before they decided on the design for their own. By that time they knew exactly what features they wanted and even prepared blueprints for the 20,000-square foot facility, which incorporates the barn and milking parlour in one building.
Features included in the facility were a parallel milking parlour with eye-level stations, which allows them to milk more safely from behind the animal. There is also automatic crowd gates to bring cows to the parlor. The manure scrapers, that operate automatically every two hours, have the tracks counter-sunk into the floor so the animals don’t stumble over them. They also designed a maternity or sick pen with a soft, sand floor that is more comfortable and less hazardous for the cows. The stalls have 2.5-inch thick mattresses for cow comfort. To maintain a comfortable barn environment, tunnel venting and automated natural ventilation systems in the barn maintain a steady flow of air at five miles per hour, which also keeps the barn virtually free of flies. “We have never had to clean the ceiling in this barn,” says Rick. “It’s almost as clean as the day we put it in.”
An integrated computer system, that was a part of the $1.5 million investment for the new free stall barn, controls just about every aspect of the dairy operation from feeding to herd record keeping. The Mangin Bros Dairy was amongst the first in Manitoba to join the Canada Quality Milk Program in 2006, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to do that without the computerized systems they have now, says Rick. “Every year, when the Quality Milk auditors come, they just go straight to the computer because almost everything they need is there,” he says.
Transponders on each animal record daily milk yield, medications given, breeding and estimated calving dates and will even detect and sort cows that are ready to be bred. “The sort gates at the parlor exit cost $25,000 each but are an excellent feature,” says Rick. “If we want to sort a certain cow for say a pregnancy check or to breed, it will automatically sort and separate that cow after milking.”
Above photos are two views of the double parallel parlour at the Mangin Bros Dairy at Bruxelles, Manitoba
Another feature which was “extra” was an activity monitor. “It’s really useful,” says Rick, “Because if the cows are more active and likely to be in heat, the computer can tell that and will alert us to sort her out if we want it to.”
One unintended consequence of building the new facility may just be securing a future for the family-run dairy operation. One of Florent’s sons has already come back to work with them in the dairy. Although he might well have made that decision regardless of the new barn, a more modern, clean, safer and easier to operate facility is an added attraction that might encourage family members to stay in the dairy industry.