Milking time on a typical dairy farm once meant hours of crouching under cows, carrying heavy pails to a cooler and plenty of other activity. The advent of pipeline systems and milking parlours eased the burden for much of the industry. Still, for many of the long-time farmers among the crowd of more than 1,000 who attended an open house at a state-of-the-art dairy barn near Conn last month, today’s technology must seem almost surreal.
At the new Henria Holsteins barn, a 50-stall rotary milking parlour allows three workers to milk up to 300 cows an hour. During the process, over 600 cows calmly line-up and step onto a massive carousal, while workers standing (not crouching) beside the device attach milkers. A short time later, the milkers drop off and the cattle carefully back off the turntable on the other side.
Among those amazed by this smooth-running process would surely be Berend and Wiechertje Flinkert, who came to Canada from Holland with their five children in 1949. In 1950, the Flinkerts began their dairy operation. Five cows were milked by hand and cream was shipped in cans, picked up at the road. By 1954, the herd had been expanded with the purchase of 22 heifer calves and the first bulk tank in the area was installed, although milk was still carried from the tie stalls to the tank.
In 1961, Arend Flinkert married Audrey Praamsma. Five days before the wedding the family’s bank barn burned down and the 90 cows were walked 10 kilometres to the Van Ankum barn on the Elora Road. Arend and Audrey purchased a farm on the west end of Drayton in the fall of ’61, adding a swing 8 parlour to the bank barn. Flinkert Farms Ltd. Was incorporated in 1971, with Berend, Wiechertje, Arend and Audrey as shareholders. The herd numbers continued to climb through the ‘70s and in 1980, the family purchased their first farm in Grey County, the eventual site of the barn opened this year.
In 1982, Henk Lastink came to Canada on a work permit through Flinkert Farms, joining the family when he married Maria Flinkert in 1985. Henk and Maria started their own farm at Cedarville (near Conn) in 1988, operating as Henria Holsteins, which was amalgamated with Flinkert Farms in 2006. At this point, Henk and Maria moved all their cattle to the Drayton location, while Arend and Audrey moved to Conn. The families switched back with the building of the new barn in 2010; with all the milking operations consolidated at Conn. Arend and Audrey continue to operate a successful heifer business at the Drayton location.
The new barn at Conn employs 18 people, some of whom have been with the family for over 20 years. With 600 milk cows, 200 dry cows and over 700 heifers, the farm is one of a handful in Ontario operating on such a scale.
Randy Bauman of Norwell Dairy Systems, which installed the DeLaval/Rota Tech milking system on the Henria farm, says his company has installed four such massive parlours in the province and competitors have put in about the same number.
While milking 600 cows a day seems a gargantuan task by area standards, Bauman said similar systems on some large American farms run round the clock (except for a couple of hours of cleaning time) making it possible to milk over 3000 cattle, twice a day. Not enough milk for you? Bauman said he knows of a Texas operation which features a 106-stall rotary parlour with, essentially, double the capacity of the Henria system.
A big deal? Certainly. But for Henk Lastink it’s all just farming.
“I was milking this many cows before between my place and my father-in-law’s. The thing about this is, everything’s new and it’s all in one place.”