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Changing Times in CanadaOctober 2015

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The first KEENAN automated feeding system was set up last week on a customer’s farm in Quebec, Canada. In Canada the average herd size is 70 cows with 49% of all dairy farms based in Quebec Province.  The dairy farm’s housing are either a tie-stall or free-stall set up. The traditional tie stall design is still very common.  The cow is tied to one cubicle and is milked and fed from this cubicle. The milk travels through a pipeline that runs through the barn to the bulk tank. When asking farmer’s about why they prefer the tie stall, they mentioned there is no bullying in the herd as each cow receives individual feed at the feed face, and feet are better since they are not standing in slurry or damaging their feet at tight corners.

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The tie stall farms that had invested in the KEENAN were all looking to feed a total mixed ration (TMR). Previously to introducing a static KEENAN mixer wagon, these farmers fed in the traditional method. This was feeding alfalfa hay in the morning, then corn silage at midday, high moisture corn at 3 pm, protein supplement at 6 pm and the last feed of the day would again be alfalfa hay. It’s hugely surprising to me that these top genetic Canadian Holstein herds would still be fed an outdated feeding system that is labour intensive and diminishes optimum rumen function.

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The automated system involves a static KEENAN machine with a smart PACE weigh box attached. All the diets are synched to the PACE weigh box and the farmer can set how many cow’s he is feeding and what time does he want to feed at. This will automatically start the conveyor to allow the first feed to be loaded into the KEENAN, it’ll count down to the exact weight and move on to the next feed. A set number of rotations is assigned to each feed depending on how much processing this feed needs e.g. stemmy dry bales vs wet lush precision chop silage. Once all feeds have been added and rotations completed, there is an automatic switch off. What’s quite impressive is that there are a number of mechanical and biologically measures that are feeding back from the machine into KEENAN’s remote monitoring centre in Ireland “InTouch”. For example, on our travels in Canada the Erskine brothers laughed that they received a call from an InTouch nutritionist in Ireland. The nutritionist stated that it had flagged up in the centre that the mix he was feeding was too dry and needed about 5 litres per head of water. Although the nutritionist wasn’t on farm, they were in no doubt that there must be sorting of the mix, loose dungs and a drop in butterfat. Erskine’s had moved to 3 times/day milking, cow’s had gone from 28 litres to 37 litres. He was very happy to have all the support from InTouch to help achieve these results. Adding water had a major effect as the cows are now yielding 40 litres.

During our trip, a topic of great conversation with farmers was their milk price. The milk price is strongly protected by the Canadian Quota supply management system and only fluctuates plus or minus 5c/litres. However, this year there has been a 12c/litre drop – the biggest drop in decades. This is leaving farmers with a milk price change from 84c/litres to 72c/litres when butterfat is 4%. (This is equivalent to 48.5 c/litre in Ireland)

Every Quebec farmer we met was strongly against eliminating supply management and wants to stay out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a massive trade pact that covers 40 per cent of the world’s economy and gives access to a market of 800 million consumers. Of course, large Canadian processors are pushing to be included in the TPP and quota elimination as they could buy milk in bulk at a lower cost.

Is it too early for us the farming community of Ireland to advise our Atlantic neighbors on quota abolition? Are the Canadian farmers wise in preparing to fight tooth and nail to protect their milk price or should they open up their market? One thing is for certain, there are a large number of Canadian farms with high overheads and low feed efficiency that the quota protects.

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