by Pat Malin
FABIUS, NY — Progress could be the middle name of Trinder Farm LLC.
In just the past five years, the Trinder Farm has arguably undergone more significant changes than in the previous 35 years since Tom Trinder bought the family farm.
Trinder and his management team, consisting of herdswoman Nancy Wood and night manager Brian McKallip, along with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, hosted an open house on May 22 to show off the unique setup of this organic Dairy of Distinction.
Trinder purchased the farm in 1978, a few years after his father, Glenn, had sold it. The elder Trinder bought the farm in 1952 and milked just 75 cows. In 1965, Tom Trinder decided to go to a free stall operation. In 2002, Trinder began pasture grazing and in 2006, converted every acre of corn into pasture and hay for 200-plus cows.
In 2009, the 202-acre spread became certified organic. In 2010, he installed a wind turbine, and in 2011, he retrofitted the dairy barn to house Lely A3 robotic milking machines. The robots were the biggest attraction for about 50 friends and neighbors who took the farm tour.
Trinder Farm now milks 120 Holsteins year-round out of a herd of 134 for Horizon. “We’re maximizing the computers,” Trinder explained. “They’ve made us more profitable. It’s been a challenge for the heifers, but the robots are reliable.”
Trinder is happy with the current setup and has no plans to increase the size of the herd, his team nor acquire additional property. Throughout his management, he has purposely kept the farm small and manageable. After all, he believes progress does not have to be synonymous with big.
“We’re one of the smallest farms left in the county,” he pointed out. “A lot of the larger farms might have found a niche market, but they have to be concerned about overproducing. At least we know that the organic market is increasing.”
David Skeval, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, told the gathering, “Besides the labor part, Tom realizes that his vet bills are very low, perhaps no more than $100 total in the past year. The cows are more contented and healthier. He’s still milking 12-13 year-olds when 6-7 year-olds is the usual standard of longevity. The farm is also good environmentally. The cows average 66 pounds of milk a day and that’s good for organic.”
In 2009, the New York State Agriculture Department presented Trinder and his wife, Elaine, with the New York State Agricultural Environmental Management Award.
Trinder was asked what business decisions influenced him to buy robotic machines. “The staffing definitely comes into play,” he replied.
In addition to himself, there is Nancy Wood, a herdswoman with 36 years’ experience. Brian McKallip, a neighbor, has worked on the farm since he was 16. He is now 21 and has a two-year-degree in criminal justice. He also works a fulltime job as a security guard at night.
Trinder and Wood admitted that it took several months to adjust to the robots. The learning curve was easier for computer-savvy McKallip, who can do simple repairs on the equipment when necessary.
With the computer gateway and electric fences in place, the cows are directed through one-way chutes (Wood has to manually open the gates). When the cows enter the barn, the computer reads their ID on their radio-frequency collar and only one cow at a time can be milked. The cow receives massaging comfort and each teat is washed and sanitized before the robot’s four cups move into place, guided by radar. At Trinder Farm, the water comes from a well. The front of the box has a trough where a cow can eat a measured amount of grain while she’s being milked.
According to Lely, the computer maintains a lifetime history of that cow’s milk production and feeding habits based on previous visits, and can adjust the rate of pulsation at the teat to produce the most milk.
“I determine how much grain is given, based on that animal,” said Trinder. When the cow, leaves the barn, perhaps feeling a natural “high,” she goes to a fresh pasture. She can return any time with a minimum of four hours between milkings.
“This cow never liked to be in the box,” commented Wood as one cow eagerly stepped into the gated parlor. Salesman Whitney Davis of Finger Lakes Dairy Service noted, “The robot know what she needs. The robot is totally consistent. There’s no emotion involved (as there is) with a human doing the milking.”
While Trinder took a group of visitors through the barn, Wood led a second group up the hill to observe the Scottish-made wind turbine and the grazeways. The tower is 120 feet high with one 42-foot blade and produces 200 kilowatts an hour. The terrain of Pompey Hills in southern Onondaga County makes it ideal for wind power. The turbines are distributed by Pyrus Energy of Weedsport, Cayuga County.
“There’s an updraft here,” Wood said. “It’s one of the best locations in the state.” Trinder is pleased with the impact on his electric bill. “It’s been a pleasant surprise,” he said. “It’s cut 32 percent of my bill. It’s paid for itself and I get credit back from National Grid. I’m also going to put in 74 solar panels on the roof.”
The third element of Trinder Farm’s integrated grazeway system is his commitment to organic farming. “In 2008, my herdsperson (Wood) was diagnosed with lymphoma,” Trinder explained to his visitors. “Thank God, she’s in remission now. But organic seemed a good fit for our farm.”
Hay yields have improved under the farm’s nutrient management plan, and earthworms pop up everywhere.
Trinder and his wife have four children. However, three of them live in Virginia and one in Arizona. “If I had this (robotic) system sooner, I might have been able to retain them,” said Trinder. “Brian and Nancy made it possible.”
He can’t predict what will happen to his farm in the future, but he feels confident he’s made the right choices. “I’m 65 years old, so I don’t have a lot of years left in this business. But if I want to quit milking I can sell the robots or take them out and still get 80 percent of their value back. And I can still sell the land.”
by Pat Malin