It’s not corn fields, barns or cows that people first notice when they drive by Allard’s Farm in Hadley, MA. These days its the rows of bright blue solar panels.
The solar panels are just one example of how this small dairy farm has been utilizing some of the latest technology.
Allard’s Farm actually has two arrays of solar panels that are positioned on 10 acres of land previously used as a cornfield. A commercial solar provider completed one array in 2012 and the other in 2016. The solar panels bring consistent income to the farm as well as 3,000 kilowatts of affordable, clean energy to the farm’s nearby neighbor.
“A lot farms today are getting more diverse and adding other sources of income like this,” said Farm Manager Bob Gould. “We went with solar panels on our farm because it was extra income to help pay the bills.”
Gould says the idea to install solar panels came from the farm’s owner, a third-generation dairy farmer named Wayne Allard. Allard’s grandfather purchased the property during the early 1930s. According to Gould the farm consists of 360 acres of corn, 100 acres of soybean, 140 acres of hay and four acres for dairy cows.
While Allard focuses on the crops and supervises the farm he relies on Gould to manage the dairy cow operation. Gould, who has been a manager on Allard’s Farm for 27 years, says he has a great working relationship with Allard and really enjoys what he does.
Gould’s main responsibilities are breeding, feeding cows and making sure there is enough help to care for them. Gould says he currently has a total of 225 Brown Swiss on the farm. According to Gould these cows produce about 200,000 pounds of milk a month.
Gould says he has a top of the line breeding program in place for his cows. He purchases all of his cows from a nursery for high quality Brown Swiss. Gould says he also inseminates each cow using semen that comes from New York.
Allard’s Farm has been awarded multiple quality milk awards, breed acreage awards, love somatic cell awards and gold certificate awards. Gould says this is proof that what he is doing is working.
“We’ve gotten a lot of awards for high quality milk production,” Gould said. “They don’t give a lot of them out. I believe this is because we keep our cows well bedded, well milked, well vaccinated and just healthy in general.”
In order to maintain the high level of welfare for his cows Gould says he has turned to some additional technology which he first discovered in 2014. It’s a cow friendly flexible free stall system made of a heavy duty but flexible polymer piping. Gould says the free stall system provides the farm with some benefits that traditional stalls could not.
“We replaced 100 steel stalls with it,” Gould said. “I recommend it because it doesn’t beat up cows. These stalls give when a cow pushes up against them so they don’t get hurt.”
Gould says he has noticed an increase in the farms overall milk productivity in the three years that they have had the flexible free stalls. Gould believes his cows are having better milk production. Gould said, “They are able to move around and get more exercise. Plus, they are more comfortable in their stalls. If the cows are comfortable, they lay longer and if they lay longer, they make more milk. It’s a proven fact.”
Gould notes that another benefit to using the flexible free stalls is that there is a decrease in the amount of money he needs to spend on bedding. This is because the cows do not have to struggle to lie down and get up, which reduces how much bedding they kick out of the stall.
Gould says a free stall system in general saves the farm a lot of money from the need to hire less labor. Allard’s Farm only employs five workers and two of them focus their time on the crops in the field. The reason the farm doesn’t need any more workers than this is because there is a lot less hand labor required to maintain free stalls.
“It’s easier to take care of a big group of cows when you have free stalls,” Gould said. “On this farm if we were down to one guy he could take care of this whole herd himself in a day.”
Gould says he is able to feed his cows quickly by simply using a tractor and feed wagon to move corn silage, haylage and grain into each stall. Gould says he has become efficient enough to where he can feed the entire herd himself within an hour.
When it comes to cleaning the barn Gould uses a bobcat-mounted tire scraper to push the manure off to one side. Gould says the cows have gotten used to the bobcat and simply move out of the way.
From there Gould says the manure is transferred into a technology that is becoming more and more common — a slurrystore. Allard’s Farm utilizes a 2.1-million-gallon tank that evenly blends manure nutrients through a central agitation system in order to maximize the overall value for crop production. Gould says since the tank was first installed around 2007 the farm has saved a lot of money because they have not had to purchase any fertilizer.
“We had a lagoon before that but we had so much water in there from surface runoff that it got to the point that you were just pumping water into the fields,” Gould said. “We are able to take liquid manure out of the slurrystore and top dress our haylage and silage fields. We mostly do this in the spring and we’ll top dress some of the hayland after each cutting. We’re probably saving around $10,000 a year.”
Gould says he understands there is not a lot of money to be made in farming and he respects those who continue to do it. He says he will continue to operate his farm in a way that works best for him and continue to employ technology whenever it seems necessary.
“I have total respect for anyone that does this right now,” Gould said. “There are no farmers out there that are getting rich doing this. Any farmer that I ever talked to tells me they just want to pay their bills and have a decent life and that’s what I’m trying to do here. I don’t think we do anything better here than anyone else. What we do here works best for us but it may not work for somebody else.”