Change is constant. Come summer, Dr. Hess Veterinary Service’s office in South Hadley will be operating under its new name. On April 27, papers were signed making it Hess McWilliams Veterinary Services, as Dr. Frederick Hess and Dr. Rose McWilliams became partners.
Their extern is set to graduate from Cornell University in May. Her name is Caroline Barstow, wife of Steven Barstow, 7th generation farmer at Longview Farm in Hadley, MA.
They have robotic milkers tending a herd of 240 dairy cows. The herd is 500 altogether, but the rest are steers for beef that they sell at their popular roadside eatery, Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery.
Caroline said, “How I started, I went to Mt. Holyoke and studied at their store because they had WI-FI. A friend of mine was dating Steve’s friend,” and the rest is history.
Setting her course for veterinary school, “I didn’t have any experience with cows. I had experience with horses and felt like I wanted to know about cows.” So she started milking cows at Longview Farm in 2011.
During her extern rounds, Caroline helped as Dr. Rose floated teeth of a horse named Cinnamon using a Swiss float with a diamond head. Caroline helped by supporting Cinnamon’s head, even though it was positioned on a metal platform. The horse was completely asleep, swaying on her feet, staying balanced even in sleep. “We’re hoping she’ll be with us now part-time,” said Dr. Rose, of Caroline. The rest of the time, Caroline is slated to work at a small animal clinic.
One fool-proof secret to success that both the practice and the farm is adhering to is all about support, providing great service and keeping up with advances.
Caroline’s husband, Steven, said they chose the Lely brand robotic milking units because, “They had the best service support in the area, and best price when we priced them out per unit.”
“We had pretty high expectations of it; it worked out better than we expected,” he said of the four units installed in early 2015.
Before, each cow produced 67 pounds of milk daily on average, now its 82.
“It’s a better life for the cows, increased production, and less labor issues,” said Steven.
The robotic milkers have allowed them to streamline their workforce.
“The grain is the biggest drive,” for the cows, according to Steven. Each cow enters the stall where the milking arm is situated to eat grain measured out automatically, according to numbers recorded at the cow’s last milking. A 3D camera above the cow’s back monitors the cow’s movements as it enters the stall, to guide the arm underneath the cow to attach each pump equipped with TDS with tri-level scanning technology; no more milking pumps attached by hand, no more cows lowing at feeding time or waiting to be milked — they do it themselves.
The machine is cleaned between each milking with steam and hosed water, killing 99.9 of bacteria. Rotating brushes automatically clean the cows’ teats, washing them with mild chlorine-free detergent. This brushing action further stimulates the release of oxytocin production in the cow, thereby improving milk-flow speed.
What does Steve like best about the milkers? “I’d say it’s a better life for the cows.”
The Barstows are also ahead of the curve in the way they manage their herd’s manure. “All the manure goes straight to the digester,” said Steve, referring to the zero-waste, closed-loop, 600,000-gallon anaerobic digester installed on their farm in 2013. The manure is cleaned by an alley-scraper system on a cable set on a track that runs into a pit underground, with set amounts programmed to then feed the bio-digester once an hour. The ensuing methane gas produced by the manure and waste products — 9000 tons of manure and 14,000 tons of food waste, according to the farm website – contracted from area restaurants and businesses is piped to a generator housed in a farm outbuilding that currently produces 285 kW an hour 24/7, more than enough to supply the farm with its power and receive energy credits.
This has been wildly successful: the digester produces so much gas, they are currently in the midst of installing another 485 kW generator, said Steven. A new pipe is being installed to take the extra gas to another part of the farm where the generator will be housed to adhere to noise regulations.
New business partners, graduation ceremonies, diplomas, quiet cows, the whir of diamond headed power tools and construction: the sweet bells of success are ringing.