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Vision 2013: Holy cow!
Dairy farming isn’t quite the hands-on experience it used to be.
Robot milking has substantially changed the way farmers collect milk for the consumer.
Ben and Margie Van Boven and their son Matt have one of three farms in the valley utilizing the robot system, rather than milking in person.
But don’t let the name fool you. A droid that looks like R2-D2 or a programmable milk maid from the Jetson’s doesn’t do the work.
“Some people actually envision this robot man in there,’’ laughs Ben.
The Van Bovens’ Vanvalley Farm dates back to 1960 when Ben’s parents Herman and Ida started the operation on land off Koksilah Road. Ben and Margie bought it in 1993.
Putting in a robot milking system, better known as an Automatic Milking System (AMS) to the layman, came at a considerable cost to the Van Bovens. They not only installed the system but invested in a large building to house their cows.
“AMS started in Holland in 1992 commercially,’’ explained Ben. “It’s already got a 20-year run before we started.’’
Margie said the first such operation in B.C. was in the Fraser Valley. The Van Bovens have been looking to make the switch for several years, beginning with a trip to Woodstock, Ontario.
“We flew to Ontario in ‘08 to fill ourselves in on it,’’ said Ben. “We flew to Holland in ‘10 to gather more information.’’
“We talked about it for years,’’ said Margie. “It would be our next step when we could afford it.’’
Ben conceded it required “lots of planning’’ before they finally took the plunge.
“Matt was at that age he could really be a part of the planning, be part of the building and general contractor,’’ said Margie of their son who graduated from Duncan Christian School in 2009.
The new building covers some 18,000 square feet and is completely energy-efficient with plenty of open space for air circulation.
Ground was broken in August of 2011 and the first milkings were conducted with the new system in the completed building during April of last year.
The brand of the milking system is Lely, based out of Holland. People who want to find out more in-depth about the system can check out the company’s website at www.lely.com.
West Coast Robotics, a Fraser Valley dealership, provided further expertise for the Van Bovens.
The benefits for the farmer and the consumer are enormous.
“The cows come to it,’’ said Ben.
“They have 24-hour access to it,’’ added Margie. “They’re not dictated by our schedule.’’
“We used to do four in the morning for the last 50 years,’’ said Ben. “Split shift work and split sleep. Now we live a more normal work day
“It’s a very low stress environment for the cows and the people both.’’
“It’s a nicer lifestyle for the farmer and they realize it’s nicer for the cow, too,’’ said Margie.
The Van Bovens currently have 45 cows that they milk plus replacement stock.
The system monitors the quality of milk being produced for Island Farms. Anything not measuring up to standards is quickly separated.
“The robot milker checks the milk quality of every quarter of every milking,’’ said Ben.
“If it isn’t top quality it puts it aside. It checks the milk temperature, checks to make sure there is no water in the tank.
“If it doesn’t meet top quality parameters, it gets diverted into a bucket.’’
Data is available on every cow and continually updated. Every cow has a tag that measures activity and the Van Bovens know exactly when they need to be bred.
“It’s incredibly high-tech,’’ said Ben. “It gives you lists and lists of info.’’
“You become people who know how to read reports,’’ quipped Margie.