Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Robot Dairy- Week One!

We made it!
Yes, I know its only been one week but you need to celebrate small victories, right?
Actually, the week went amazingly well!
"Better than expected" is what I would like to say but honestly, we had NO idea what to expect!
All we know is that the cows are loving it!
The best indicator is their milk production. If you want to know if a cow is happy, stressed, comfortable, sick, healthy, if she's eating right- you look at how much milk she makes that day. Our cows have been averaging around 85 lbs of milk every day for the last few years.
The average pounds of milk for today at SwissLane 2 (Robot Dairy) was 102 lbs!!
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
It took about 8 hours to haul all 350 cows from SwissLane 1- only 8 at a time.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
This was the first cow milked last Tuesday.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
Cows are creatures of habit to the tenth degree. Anything new is such a big deal for them! So, a new barn AND being milked by a ROBOT was a lot for them to take in. We had a crew of 16 people (4 at each robot) for the first day to help usher the cows into the robot to be milked. They were so hesitant!

For the first milking, the Robot had to be trained too!
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
We had to sanitize the udder
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
enter the cows ear tag number and steer it so it could find the teats.
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

The robots scan the cows ear tags so each time she comes in it will remember the shape of her udder and teat placement then it will automatically sanitize and place the milker on the udder. (If you look closely at the picture above you can see the laser on the udder.)
One of the incentives to get the cows into the robot- besides having a full udder- is they get a little treat to eat while being milked. There is a little trough in the robot and it will dump a certain amount of grain in there depending on how much milk she gives and how many times she is milked that day.
Some of them have to be limited on how many times they get milked because they will just come in to have a snack so the robot just kicks them out!

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
It is just amazing how much information we have access to! We can tell which quarter of the cows udder produces the most or how much she weighs at each milking. We can even track how often a cow is chewing her cud!

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
High quality milk is the most important thing on our dairy farm. The robot uses a laser to scan the milk to check for inconsistencies and color. If it senses bad quality milk it will dump the milk and alert the herd manager.

It is so fun to watch the cows enjoying their new back rub brushes! Merry Christmas girls!
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

The most amazing thing that I've seen this week had nothing to do with the robots though....
Over this past week there were 52 people who came to help us with this monumental endeavor. I was overwhelmed by the support from the farming community, our family, and friends. We are so blessed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is teaching kids work ethic going to be against the law?

I just submitted my comments to the US Department of Labor(USDOL) about the proposed changes to Child Labor on farms. You have until Dec. 1st 11:59pm. Follow this link the Document Type is Proposed Rule and I'D is 1235-AA06 to submit your own comments.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
This is my night-time calf feeding crew practicing for the 4-H fair this summer. My kids, my neice, and cousins. If the USDOL changes go into effect, this kind of picture faces extinction.
The porposed changes would effect our family farm because we are in a partnership and there is not just one sole owner.

Here is what I had to say:

I am a 4th generation dairy farmer and mother to 3 children. I am deeply concerned with the proposed changes to the Child Labor Laws as they pertain to farms.
Currently, we have 38 employees and 19 people from our family work on the farm 8 of those would be effected by these rules.
Since 1915 our family has been built on the value of hard work. This work ethic has been passed down through the generations by children working side by side their parents and grandparents. We understand the importance of farm safety and make it a priority. Safety is something that is practiced on a daily basis and becomes natural. It is not something that just happens because a child has a birthday. Working as a family also passes down a deep commitment and understanding of the importance of being a steward of our land, animals, and natural resources. Children taught at an early age have a true appreciation for agriculture that will spark a passion for providing others with food and fiber.
I understand that my children will still be allowed to participate in some aspects of the farm but at a much different level than they currently do. Giving the children incentive to work by receiving a paycheck is not only rewarding them but also giving them an opportunity to learn to manage money. This is something that most of society and even our own government needs some practice at.
Making such broad and over-reaching changes to the way our family runs our business is going to put our family farm's legacy in jeopardy.
Thank you,
Anna Link
SwissLane Dairy

Monday, November 28, 2011

History In The Making- Swisslane2/Robot Dairy

A new era has arrived to Swisslane Dairy Farms!  In just a few hours, 300 cows will begin to be trailered over to Swisslane 2- or as we like to call it The Robot Dairy. 
It is just a hop, skip, and a jump to the north of our original farm.
We will start at 10am ushering the cows into the robots to be milked.
Over the past couple of years our family has done a lot of soul-searching, brainstorming, business planning, and most importantly praying. 
Now the current owners of the farm (my dad and my two uncles) are nearing retirement age and a solid group of generation nexters (my husband and I, two of my cousins, and my brother in-law) are ready to pursue enterance into the family business.
We needed a plan that would ensure the farm's sustainsbilty for years to come.
When we first met last winter to formulate this plan, all ideas were up for consideration.  Some ideas thrown out: cheese/milk processing, raw milk/cow-shares, buying a farm in Ohio, expanding the original farm, rotary or parallel parlors.  Everything was on the table.  One by one each idea was held up to our circumstances and our Core Values.  And in March of 2011 we made our proposal to the bank for a loan to build a farm for 500 cows with 8 Robotic Milkers and in 2-5 years we plan to begin Phase 2 and milk another 500 then.  
We broke ground in May and here we are- 6 months later- ready for opening day!
The three selling points, if you will, where robotic milking lined up with our Core Values were:

1. Light Years Ahead (This is cutting edge stuff!)
2.  Focused On The Cows (The cows will love consistency of the robotsand the cows get to decide when they get milked!)
3.  Turning A Nickel Into A Dime (Making a capital investment to reduce cost in the long run.)

Stay tuned for more updates and thank you for your prayers and support!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Birthday on the Farm!

We are so thankful for all the kids who have come this year to celebrate their special day in a farm-tastic way!
These are a few of the images from those events. 
Included in every party is: use of the barn, picnic area, barnyard friends, corn box, straw maze, bottle feed calves, hayride, and dairy snack.
Most people bring cake and ice cream and sometimes food for their guests.
It's a fun, easy, and unique way to make memories for a lifetime!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Neighbor Night 2011

Once again we are completely amazed by the support and encouragement from our community. There were over 700 visitors at SwissLane tonight from 6-9pm. Everyone enjoyed a delicious pork sandwich dinner, milk, ice cream, Hayride tours, and a Robotic Milking Demonstration.




When we were thinking about what we should say (besides "Thank you for coming" of course) to our visitors/neighbors. We decided on 3 things:
1) Praising God for our blessings
2) Honoring the anniversary of 9/11 and
3) Why are we doing this(in regards to our business plan)? I was the lucky one who got to address our crowd with this task:)

Number 1 and 2 were easy.
1) I read a verse out of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is not us that makes the plants grow. We are God's workers. Basically, this is not just about us. We are called to be stewards of His creation.

2) I read a quote from Pres. George W Bush from 11/11/2001. "Time is passing. Yet for the USA there will be no forgetting Sept. 11. We will remember every rescuer who died in horror. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls. We will remember the funerals of the children."

#3 though... why? hmmm... well
3) Our farm was started just shy of 100 years ago. My great-grandpa had a storybook farm with chickens, rabbits, and a couple cows. When my grandpa decided to stay on and take ownership- they expanded to milking 22 cows in the 1930's. When my dad and his 2 brothers decided to stay on and take ownership- they expanded to milking 150 cows. Now we have come to the next generation and we pray that we can continue this tradition! There are several family members from the 4th generation that are ready for the challenge. We are building a whole new farm on a whole new site about 1 mile north of the original farm. The new farm will house 500 cows that will be milked by 8 robotic milkers!

We are very excited for next year's Neighbor Night to be held at the new site!
This year was the 6th annual event. The entertainment/location may change but the purpose of Neighbor Night won't: To educate/update the community about SwissLane Farms practices and goals through open dialouge while enjoying good food in a family-fun atmosphere.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Farm Fresh Food Blog

Two months ago I was asked by the Michigan Ag Council to participate in their new Farm Fresh Food Blog! This blog is a collaboration of Michigan farmers who share stories and recipes right from their own farm! Very exciting! My first thought was "No problem- I already blog so this should be easy." Well here we are 2 months later...I think I was suffering from Blogophobia or something! Finally submitted my first post! We have lots to get caught up on and first up- Maple Syrup Season 2011! Better check it out...I even give out our 6th generation Swiss Pancake recipe!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Team BEEF at the Boston Marathon!

We all know that physical activity is more effective in conjuction with a protein-rich diet becuase it maintains muscle while burning fat. I have been a runner since 7th grade track and believe that it is always important to "protein up" to provide the fuel to finish!
On Monday April 18, 2011. A dream came true. A goal was accomplished. A check off the Bucket List. I ran in the 115th Boston Marathon!
I knew that there was a reason that I was able to qualify, register, and scrape up enough money to go to the Boston Marathon. Seriously, if I told you all the little things that had to work just right for this to happen...it can only be explained as Devine intervention (Hebrews 12:1-2)! It was such an awsome experience.
One of the highlights was being a member of Team BEEF/ZIP!
(Me at the Team BEEF booth at the Fitness EXPO)

I enjoy promoting my farm, Dairy Discovery, the dairy industry, agricluture, etc... through Facebook and Twitter. A few weeks before the race I asked a some "friends" and "followers" how I could promote beef or dairy at the Boston Marathon and was directed right to Team BEEF/ZIP(Zinc Iron Protein)! There were 18 team members that recieved a jersey and $75 off the registration fee for Boston 2011.
The back of the jersey read: Running powered by BEEF!
My family usually ends up eating some sort of beef (its whats) for dinner at least 4 times/week (steak, tacos, meatloaf, roast,etc..). It works well for us because it is readily available, fills my kids bottomless pits, and provides protein that is essential for runners in training.
While I did enjoy some exquisit seafood, the here are a 2 of the Boston beef dinners that you need to see to believe! YUMMY!
Veal Parmagiana
And my post-race reward (and nutrients you need to start the recovery process)... Tenderloin carved tableside!

A few days after the race I was asked to be a guest on a radio program Rural Route with Trent Loos. The most intersting part of the conversation was on the subject of changing the name Team ZIP to Team BEEF.
Trent's view: Team ZIP forces people to think about the nutritional benefits we get from eating beef.
Beef Council: Team BEEF is more recognizable.
Me: I ran for 26.2miles wearing a shirt that read Team ZIP. Several spectators cheered out "Go ZIP!" but did they really have a chance to grasp the concept? I feel running for Team BEEF would mean more to me personally. I know that in the end, the purpose of beef is to provide essential nutrients but, for me, its about more than that. Not only does beef mean zinc, iron, and protein to me- it means my livelihood, heritage, future, and more.

My finish: 3:36:38
Overall Place: 9566 of 23879
Gender Place: 2235 of 10073

Weeknights are crazy. Here is a quick and easy go-to recipe of mine. For some classier fare check out www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com

Monday Night Meatloaf
2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
1 box Stove Top Stuffing
3/4cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350. Mix beef, eggs, stuffing, and 1/2cup ketchup in bowl. Shape into 2 loaves and place in 2qt casserole dish. Top with remaining ketchup. Bake 45-50min or until cooked through. Makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

I often get asked "What do you do (with the animals) in the winter?"

The answer is quite simple- whatever it takes!

We found out last night that school was closed and the kids cheered. I turned to Jerry as the lightning-yes lightning!!-flashed outside and asked if he was excited about a snow day. We came to the conclusion that we were scared more than excited.
Already this week the weather has brought on a lot of extra work: pumps, pipes, watercups, equipment- just to name a few and that was only by Tuesday! We didn't know what a big pile of snow would add to the mix....

About 16inches of snow fell and drifted at the farm last night/early this morning. And really, it wasn't as bad as we anticipated. Everything just took a lot of time. Mostly due to snow removal, making sure everyone got to and from work safe, and pulling folks(myself included) out of (well I was going to say ditch but really it was just the drifts in the road! A couple roads weren't cleared until after 5pm around here).
Here are some pics:

Uncle Tom came to the rescue and pulled the Kent County Plow Truck out of a drift with the big bad 4 wheeler tractor and then plowed the road and driveway for my sister so she could go to work as an RN.

Every single door/walk way needed to be shoveled.

Snow even managed to blow into the barns! Look at how nice and snug that little heifer is peeking out of her straw bed with her little jacket on:)

The guys went around yesterday and buttoned up the curtains in all of the cow barns. Not much snow got in and even better kept that awful wind off the cows. Check out the icicles on this barn though!! Makes me a little nervous- we heard of a roof collapsing at a dairy today.

These piles are amazing! The kids had a blast playing on them after chores tonight!

I saw this post on facebook and wanted to make sure to share it:
BREAKING NEWS: There will be no farms closed due to the upcoming BLIZZARD.

Each & every farmer will be out in the blistery, cold, blowing wind and heavy snow fall tending to their livestock. They will be praying for machinery to work and non-frozen water pipes. If you know or LOVE a farmer, say a prayer for him or her and repost so the... prayerline may grow for all our farmers to be safe through the blizzard.

Well those prayers worked! We survived! Well so far anyway....Jerry is making the last round for the night as I type...lets just keep praying!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Massive Manure Spreader

I try to shy away from posting on manure. Its really just not my thing. I mean I love my cows, and I know how valuable it is as fertilizer and all, but geesh that stuff stinks. Luckily, we have a Manure Management team at the farm that is second to none- manure IS their thing.
However, when I saw this roll in the driveway...


This. Thing. Is. MASSIVE!
Word is that this 'Meyer' spreader is 1 of only 12 of its kind in the country.
The main selling points for us were:
1. Quick- The girls make a lot of milk and a lot of manure too. When we get the chance we need to be able to get that stuff out fertilizing the soil ASAP to comply with our CNMP.
2. Efficient- It will save $$ in fuel and labor costs.
3. Versatility- This can also double as a Silage Truck during harvest- AMAZING!
I hope you are realizing how many times I have been insipired to use all caps in this post to convey just how EXCITED I have become over a piece of equipment- manure equipment no less. It truly is something you just need to see to believe!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A story fit for a farm

This past week we had an older, pre-fresh(or really pregnant) cow that wasn't feeling so good and we just couldn't figure out what the problem was. Our vet gave us some tips on how to treat her symptoms and keep her comfortable and we were kind of relieved when she started to calve in hopes that would turn things around. Little did we know that she was pregnant with TRIPLETS!
My dad claims that since the beginning of Swisslane's existence there have only been 2 cases of triplets before this and none of the calves have survived. I would love to say that this case ended in storybook fashion but it's just a good ending with some farm-life reality too.
All 3 calves were heifers! This is not only rare but great because when cattle have multiples that are different sexes the females are sterile in about 80-90% of cases. These heifers are called a freemartin and raised along with the bull calves.
Sadly, one of the calves didn't make it. As for the other 2, they are happy and healthy. There is just one small flaw with baby #2- she has no ears!


Just these little buds- its very strange-but we still like her! She won't have eartags- everyone will just know her and she's already getting some special treatment as the kids fight over who gets to feed "No Ears" her bottle at night.

The cow did end up passing away 2 days after calving. Her legacy will live on through her girls. And we have another case to support using ultra-sound technology on our pregnant cows- something that we have talked about but just haven't been able to justify that kind of an investment. Its hard to not question "What if...?" But looking at how far technology has advanced cow health it won't be long before cases like this will end happily ever after!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

State of the State- Michigan's Big Comeback!

I totally missed the State of the State tonight. I honestly don't even know if was aired on one of our 12 stations that we get but I was too busy with Spelling and Book Reports at that point anyway but oh well....
What reports I have seen so far are really really exciting!
Our new Governor Snyder not only mentioned AGRICULTURE but actually praised, promoted, supported, encouraged- you get the idea- he recognized that agriculture has been a bright spot in Michigan's economy and one of the few industries that has grown throughout these tough times.
Just to remind you of the kind of reports Michigan Agriculture was used to hearing out of the Governor's office feel free to check out a blog post I wrote last March about Michigan Meatout Day. Needless to say, there really wasn't an ag-friendly feeling coming from Lansing then. And that is why it is so refreshing and exciting to hear this kind of stuff in the State of the State address tonight:

- Michigan residents will have access to a new website that will provide us with both transparency and accountability.

- and my favorite part, an excerpt from Michigan Farm Bureau's Press Release (I pasted the entire thing below too)-
Snyder backed up his respect for agriculture by vowing in his address to work with the state Legislature on making the nationally acclaimed Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) part of state statute, a longtime policy goal of MFB.

SwissLane Dairy completed our MAEAP in 2007. We are big fans of this program because it is voluntary and incentive based. Rather than more regulation and over-reaching authority this actually creates a partnership between farmers and government. We actually worked together and came up with solutions!

Michigan is not just a place to live for our family. This is our heritage and our legacy. We can't wait to be a part of the Comeback!

Michigan Farm Bureau Press Release:
Snyder's emphasis on agriculture, proactive environmental stewardship puts Michigan on right course

LANSING, Jan. 19, 2011 - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder did not disappoint in his first state of the state address Wednesday evening. The Governor clearly demonstrated that he is a leader who "gets it" when it comes to reforming government and building on the state's agricultural strengths to help revitalize Michigan.

"Gov. Rick Snyder once again validated why he earned the AgriPac Friend of Agriculture endorsement and the support of thousands of Farm Bureau families in his election campaign," said Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) President Wayne H. Wood. "As he expressed in his address, the Governor is sincere in his passion for agriculture's role in Michigan's economic recovery and he is fully committed to reforming government and revitalizing our state."

MFB, the state's largest general farm organization, was particularly pleased that Snyder recognized agriculture as an integral component to growing jobs and furthering economic development in Michigan.

The agri-food and agri-energy industry, encompassing conventional agriculture and the many supporting industries ranging from food processing and trucking to grocery store sales, is a $71.3 billion - and growing - industry in Michigan which employs about 1 million people, roughly a quarter of the state's work force. Studies indicate that agriculture has been expanding at a rate five times faster than the growth rate of the general economy in recent years.

"Agriculture is as relevant to Michigan today as it was at the turn of the century and Governor Snyder not only recognizes this fact but embraces it," said Wood.

"For instance, Snyder recently made rural development a function of the Michigan Department of Agriculture," said Wood. "This is a progressive step, as agriculture is one of the largest contributors to economic growth in Michigan's rural communities."

Snyder backed up his respect for agriculture by vowing in his address to work with the state Legislature on making the nationally acclaimed Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) part of state statute, a longtime policy goal of MFB.

"Throughout his campaign Snyder talked about 'outcomes- and results-based government,' so to have the Governor formally acknowledge that MAEAP meets his high standards for a streamlined, effective and performance-based program is a crowning achievement for MAEAP and one that the Michigan Farm Bureau looks forward to working with the state Legislature to implement," said Wood.

Currently housed within the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, MAEAP is a voluntary, incentive-driven program which helps farmers of all sizes and commodities proactively minimize and/or eliminate agricultural pollution risks on their farms by teaching them how to identify and address those risks in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

"Giving MAEAP statutory teeth will help the program appeal to more farmers by providing some of the regulatory stability they are seeking to effectively operate their farms and grow jobs for Michigan families," said Wood.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good Times and Good Friends

Last week Jerry and I traveled to the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia(to find out more info on Twitter- search #AFBF11). We planned on learning about new technology and issues facing agriculture but we left with that and a whole lot more.
We made some great friends and guess what?!?! Some of them even have blogs!
The Weiss family and Carla and Kris have dairy farms and Jeff blogs on all things AG. All of these fine folks are for real farmers in Michigan.

We started our adventure in Atlanta by taking a very fun and educational bus tour of 2 local farms.
First stop= Greenhouse and Nursery.

Then off to Southern Belle farms.
This was a really great family and I learned a lot there.
They turned their old milking parlor into a classroom!

There was a huge trade show where we saw first-hand the latest/greatest farm technology.
Here we were supposed to check out the new milker and I couldn't get over the display- this would go great in the Dairy Discovery Barn!

A Ginormous Cotton Picker!

Biggest Corn Chopper in the world!

Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel was the Keynote Speaker! It was really cool to hear his appreciation for American Agriculture. He talked a lot on how regulations and activist groups are burdening farmers instead of creating common sense solutions "to get the job done". I love his "Brown before Green" slogan!

And then...dont dont DONNN...the BLIZZARD!!
For some reason 3 inches of snow is a big deal down south. I guess in a city of 5million, 6 snowplows just couldn't keep up.
Needless to say, the city completely shut down...
One restaurant we went to had only 2 people on staff. Another ran out of food! We had some flight cancellations and delays and finally got home a day later than anticipated.
We will never forget our amazing adventure to "Icelanta!"