Braintree Dairy Farmer In Big Expansion
Braintree Dairy Farmer In Big Expansion
The new dairy system at Circle Saw Farm in Braintree is the key to the Simpson family staying in farming, keeping milk production high, and making life easier.
Of the 31 years he has owned the farm, Bob Simpson has been planning the expansion of his dairy for the past ten and is looking forward to seeing it in action in September.
"We’ve been planning this for years, building our land base to eventually expand," said Simpson of his plan to increase herd size from 150 to 400 cows.
When he first purchased the farm from his parents in 1971 the farm was 400 acres. Simpson and wife Tay now own 880 acres and rent another 200 acres, with a total of 760 acres of tillable land.
"We’ve been raising more feed than we need and selling the extra, so we know we have the land to support 400 cows," Simpson said. "Now we’re building the facility to house and milk the increased number of cows."
Growth stages involved more than land base, as the Simpsons focused on breeding and milk production, choosing bulls excelling in protein and longevity to improve the genetics of the herd. Feed quality is monitored weekly and the ration balanced daily to ensure top nutrition.
"Our production didn’t just happen; we know exactly what we’re feeding all the time," Simpson said.
With production now averaging 28,500 lbs of milk and 860 lbs of protein per cow per year, the herd is currently the top herd on the Vermont Dairy Herd Improvement Association list and has been one of the top 10 producing herds in Orange County since the early 1980's.
"We’ve always paid attention to our breeding program, producing quality feed and keeping the cows comfortable," Simpson said. "We plan to maintain that level of production."
The new farm plan includes expanded feed storage, increased and improved manure storage and handling system, as well as a new free stall barn and milking parlor.
The spacious new barn is 312 feet long and 110 feet wide with capacity for 400 animals and is a far cry from the old, overcrowded barn they are still using.
Special features include rubber-covered floors to reduce slipping, protect hoof health and encourage eating, alley scrapers, 16 hours of lighting to mimic spring sunlight, fenced walls and roof to keep out birds, four 24-foot span ceiling fans for ventilation and warmth in winter, and laminated round trusses for the insulated roof.
The new milking parlor, which should be up and running in about six weeks, is "the most efficient setup you can get" with 12 cows per side and the potential to expand to 16 per side.
A computerized cow identification system will keep track of production and health and can be set for special features such as separating specific cows for a veterinarian to check. The covered walkway connecting parlor to barn will have a hospital area.
One energy-efficient feature is a recycling system that supplies the warmed water from the plate cooler in the milk room to the cows' drinking troughs in the barn.
"Right now we milk the 60 top producing cows three times a day but in the new parlor we plan to milk all the cows three times a day," Simpson said.
Machinery is located underneath the heated floors of the parlor to create a quiet, comfortable milking environment with no equipment for the cows to kick. Beside the milking parlor is an employee locker room and office.
"The design includes a lobby viewing area into the milking parlor as well as walkway alongside the parlor so visitors can see the cows and observe milking," Simpson said.
With $20,000 funding from Vermont and $100,000 federal funding, the new manure system has capacity for 1.6 million gallons and collects leachate from silage bunker, wash water from the new parlor, and manure from both new and old barns.
"It’s seven times bigger than our current slurry store and is expandable to 2.4 million gallons if we need it in the future," Simpson said.
The nutrient management plan for the farm includes soil testing, keeping track of where manure and fertilizer are applied, as well as measuring crop yields.
"It may be expensive but we only have one chance to do this right and if we cut corners, we lose production," Simpson said. "Spending over $2 million all at once is a lot but I wouldn’t do it any other way."
The Simpsons are using a number of local businesses, including Rick Ernst for electrical work, Richard Skarrow for plumbing, and Larry Pickett for excavation.
Morton Buildings, renowned for building large dairy facilities, constructed the barn, Harrison Concrete from Georgia, Vt. is doing the cement work on the milking parlor and building, and the milking parlor was purchased from Reed’s Equipment in Addison, Vt.
"Because of our high production we needed 400 cows for the cash flow to pay for the setup; if our production wasn’t as high we’d need 500 cows," Simpson said.
"We wanted to create an easier, more comfortable working environment that is labor-efficient and offers long term opportunities, as well as future possibilities for my three children or Gary’s four children if any of them want employment or a future in farming."
With the farm at its current size, 150 milkers, no one gets any time away from the farm. That should change with the new facility.
The farm employs the equivalent of four fulltime workers now, including Bob and his wife Tay, Bob’s 25-year-old son Andrew, plus one additional full timer. Part-time workers include Bob’s brother Gary, mother Evelyn who feeds the calves, and Erik Polson, who milks two days a week.
"We’re lucky in that Tay makes the cows a high priority and gives them a lot of attention," Simpson said. "Andy likes cropwork, I like both crops and cows as well as the business end of things."
To Employ Six
When the new facility is up and running, the Simpsons expect to have six fulltime employees, or five plus several parttime employees.
Most of the farm has transferred its development rights to the Vermont Land Trust, which means this large piece of land, 830 acres, will stay open. Income from those transfers went into purchasing more local acreage to increase the farm land base.
"You can be sure for the next 30 years this farm will be used as a dairy operation and if no family member wants to continue, it’ll be a saleable dairy operation," he pledged.
One challenge has been the amount of work involved in organizing the financing.
"We budgeted the expansion on $14 per hundred weight of milk," Simpson said. "Although we know we can make milk cheaper with the larger operation, cheaper inputs and fewer people, we’re currently getting $11 per hundred weight of milk and that’s simply not enough to make any money no matter what size you are."
At this point the Simpsons have purchased 149 new bred heifers and plan to buy another 100 to work up to a herd of 400 milkers by early next year.
"It seems to have been a long time since we started construction in January but we’re nearly finished," Simpson said.
"The neighbors we’ve heard from have been supportive, but we’re sorry for all the truck traffic on Peth Road. This will be completed soon and we’ll be up and running and plan to have an open house so people can visit."
By Gus Howe Johnson