“Our quality of life and the cow’s quality of life is 100 percent better!” remarked Kip Law, when explaining how the transition from a tie stall barn to a free stall barn had improved not only his herd, but also his family’s life.
Law is the third generation to be on the farm, which is located in Sherburne, Chenango County, NY.
“My grandfather bought the farm in 1946,” Law said. “We own and rent a total of 450 acres. We use most all of what we grow for our own animals, but occasionally sell some hay and corn if we have extra.”
Law, who took the farm over 32 years ago at 16-years old, when he lost his dad, is currently milking 110 Holsteins and has about 100 head of young stock.
“We started out with a 70-cow tie stall and we were switching cows in and out,” Law explained. “We were switching groups in the tie stall barn to milk them for almost 15 years.”
Law was planning to renovate the old tie stall barn, where stalls were too small for the Holstein breed and it was a constant battle getting enough water to the cows. Air quality was poor and the whole situation was stressful and definitely not labor efficient, especially since Law only employs one full-time worker, Herdsman Mike Knochenmus — who has been with the farm for over 20 years — with family members filling in to help out as needed.
“Our barn was in bad shape and cows weren’t comfortable,” Law recalls. “I had planned on remodeling our 55 stall barn and adding another 40 tie stalls. But after looking at other farms we decided that it would be better to rebuild a free stall and add more cows.”
Law credits Central New York CCE Dairy Specialist, Dave Balbian for showing him how he could improve his dairy and ease the stress on the cows and his family.
“This, really, I owe to Dave Balbian.” Law stated. “I had no intentions of doing a free stall, but Dave took us around and showed us farms and parlors. When I thought it was out of our reach, he showed us it wasn’t. After doing the math on remodeling and an addition — with Dave’s advice — we decided to build a free stall and low cost parlor.”
The new 3-row, 98-stall, deep-bedded sand, free stall barn, complete with cow brushes, keeps cows cleaner, provides the ultimate in cow comfort and excellent air quality.
“It changed everything a lot!” Law emphasized. “When you go out in the morning now all of the cows are laying down. Our cows are a lot calmer. Their feet and legs are better. They’re milking better; the overall herd health is a lot better.”
Law said he foresees that longevity of the cows will improve considerably.
Somatic Cell Counts, which always hovered around 100,000, have now fallen below that count. “Body condition is better. Intake is better. It’s amazing! It’s like a different herd, in two years, it’s like a completely different herd.”
Law did much of the construction himself with the help of Knochenmus and the family using farm equipment, which cut costs considerably.
“We built the barn and we did most of the excavation for the parlor ourselves — just using a skidsteer and dozer. We hired the concrete done and installation of the used milking equipment.”
The low-cost, double 8 parallel, pit parlor, made by a welding shop, has made a huge difference and has cut labor tremendously.
Not only do the cows now come to the milker instead of the milkers going to the cows, but the parallel design reduces walking distance between cows, providing lots of cow udders, closer together. More milking units are also available.
“The up and down bending by the milkers is eliminated with the pit,” Balbian pointed out. “For many people that constant bending up and down really takes a toll on the body after a number of years.”
Balbian says Law’s milking parlor makes him “much more labor efficient.”
Law says it has cut milking time in half.
“It was taking us about seven hours to milk before and now its three — and we’re milking a third more cows! We were at about 55 pounds before and now we’re around 70 pounds. Our components are a lot better. Total milk output more than doubled — with a third more cows and less labor! We’re really happy with that!”
Law says the cows adapted quickly, gaining on milk right away, with an 8-10 lb. milk increase in the first 2 to 3 weeks.
“The biggest problem we had was a few took a little while to get used to the head locks.”
Current component averages are butter fat around 4, with protein at 3.2.
A new bulk tank was required to accommodate the changes. “There’s a lot more milk going out the door!”
It took about a year to complete the entire project from start to finish, because of working with crops and delays with winter weather.
Law says he has seen some tough times over the years, including the loss of his father at a young age and having the responsibility of the farm come to him.
“At around the same time the milk company we were shipping to went bankrupt and we had two months of void milk checks, which we never did get anything for. I don’t often say much about those things — I feel a lot of people have had major hurdles to overcome in farming and life.”
Kip says he still misses his dad every day. “It makes me appreciate my family even more and how the farm has progressed.”
Today, as with the other dairy farmers, Law says his biggest struggle is operating the dairy and having no control over milk prices and being paid with “what’s left over” for a milk price. He says that in view of that, “I think one big thing for people that don’t farm to understand, is that farmers as a whole take the best possible care of their animals and land as they can, regardless of what we’re getting paid for milk.”
Kip Law and his wife Stacey farm with their children, Sierra, Wayne and Emma.