Packed house for Farm Management tour

PLYMOUTH – Marshall County was honored by being the host site of the 2012 Indiana Farm Management Tour on June 20 and 21.
The annual tour is presented by the Purdue University Agricultural Economics Department and the Cooperative Extension Service. Participants come from all over Indiana and surrounding states. This year, seven attendees were from Afghanistan —students from the Kabul University who are studying for advanced degrees at Purdue.
The first stop on the tour was the Homestead Dairy located on 13th Road in Plymouth. The dairy operation, owned by Floyd Houin, began in 1945 when Elmer and Lena Houin bought 216 acres and began milking nine cows. Fast forward to today, when Homestead Dairy manages 3,800 dairy cows (3,200 in milk and 600 dry cows) at three dairy farms as well as 4,000 replacement heifers at their own farms and at contract grower locations.
The key to Homestead’s success, as at the other three tour locations, is the use of modern technology to increase efficiency. While on three farms, the herd is managed as one unit, allowing specific functions such as calving and fresh cow management to be performed at one site, reducing the need for specialized skills at all three locations. Computers at each site are networked together allowing access from the central office. This provides tracking of each cow regardless of physical location.
Dairy Comp 305 herd management software allows entering of information about individual cows from any farm location. Pocket Cowcard uses electronic ear tags to make lists of to do tasks for each cow, which can be read electronically and entered into a handheld computer. This allows herdsmen to determine when to treat, breed, or vaccinate animals and to record those activities.
Afifarm is an Israeli milk recording system which determines milk weight for individual cows at each milking. It also provides electrical conductivity of milk which can be used for mastitis detection. The system also includes pedometer readings that measure activity and can assist in heat detection. Data collected by this system are used every day to monitor the health and reproductive status of cows.
While efficient, this large dairy operation is not impersonal and uncaring. Cow comfort and care are top priorities. Animals are housed in free stall facilities and are bedded either with sand or manure solids. Stalls and alleyways are cleaned multiple times each day and cows have unlimited access to feed and water. They are quietly moved to and from the milking parlor.
Feeding a herd of this size is an involved operation by itself. On 3,600 acres (2,500 of it owned and 1,100 acres rented) most acres are planted in corn for silage. The remaining acres are harvested for grain. Technology is also used in the cropping. The farm uses AutoSteer and GPS for planting and other field tasks. Their combine has a yield monitor, and the silage harvester will soon have a yield monitor as well.
The future for Homestead Dairy looks bright. Possible expansion opportunities include the installation of a methane digester to generate electricity in an environmentally friendly manner and the replacement of one of the milking parlors.

Read more about the farm tour in the print edition of the Pilot News, June 25.