October 22, 2014

ACI adopts West-end Dairy

Part one: Introduction, what’s happening now

Tim Barnum
The new, under construction milking parlor at West-end Dairy.
Tim Barnum
Dairy cows at West-end Dairy feed between milking shifts.
Tim Barnum
A half-Jersey, half-Holstein calf at West-end Dairy.
Photo
1
2
3
By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
Email me
Posted

ADAMS TOWNSHIP — West-end Dairy, majority-owned by Dan Fisk and his wife Janeen, is a dairy farm in Adams Township and its operation will be chronicled in The Arenac County Independent’s farm page over the next several months as part of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Farm media program.

According to Jacob Fisk, 28, Dan’s son and part-owner of West-end Dairy, the farm currently has 420 cows in its milking herd and the cows are moved through West-end’s double-nine (nine milking apparatuses on each side of the parlor) milk parlor three times a day – at 3 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. – in shifts that last approximately six and half to seven hours.

But Jacob says the current milk parlor isn’t permanent.

“We’re in the process of building a new one right now,” he said. “The new one will be a double 16.

“We’re estimating shifts to be about four and a half hours.”

Ultimately, besides providing shorter, faster operations, Jacob says the bigger parlor will also allow for a bigger milk herd.

“That way we can add some more cows,” he said. “Right now we have room for 550 (milk) cows.”

The new parlor will also utilize extensive technology.

“We’re going to have individual, computerized ID,” Jacob said, adding individual cows’ production and milk quality will be monitored by a computer system every time they are milked. “All of that stuff is to make it (milk production) more efficient.”

Jacob says dairy farms all over are constantly changing and building newer, bigger barns, so the farms play a major role in the local economy since farmers usually either have new structures built or existing ones renovated/expanded about every five years.

“The guy who manages Arquette Concrete (Standish) has told us there has been some summers that dairies have kept them open” Jacob said.

Dan says for the last 25 years, West-end dairy has built, modified or renovated a structure nearly every year.

However, according to Dan, no matter how many cows the farm uses for milk production, how big the buildings are or what technology is utilized, low milk costs are currently causing dairies to lose money.

“Production costs are right around $15 per 100 gallons,” he said, adding the farm is only paid about $11 per 100 gallons. “It went way too high and now it’s way too low. … Corn did the same thing.”

More than just low milk prices have the Fisks carefully planning for the future. Dan says current animal welfare laws that have been passed on the West Coast have been discussed lately in the Midwest. He said these laws are currently aimed at chicken and pig farmers, but issues on dairy farms, such as bull-calf castration and de-horning calves, both common practices for West-end, have also come under some scrutiny lately.

According to Dan, the push for these regulations has grown over time as the number of producers is fewer, but increased production is in demand.

“I think their (lobbyists for stricter animal welfare regulations) intentions are good,” Dan said.

“People exploit good intentions,” Jacob added. “That’s what’s dangerous (for farmers).”

“I think it’s scarier for people in the cites. What are they going to eat (if the regulations grow too strict for farmers to continue operating)?” Dan said.

According to Dan, many farms, West-end Dairy included, already work to keep animals in good condition.

“A happy, content cow makes the most milk,” he said.

Not only do the Fisks attempt to make their herd comfortable, but they also test their products to ensure high quality and profitability.

The Fisks purchased an antibiotic testing system that is used for every tank of milk produced at West-end. Dan says the tester was an obvious investment after the farm was fined $13,000 due to antibiotics discovered in its milk.

“That’s a one-time lesson,” he said.

West-end Dairy is currently operated by four family members (the Fisks and a cousin) and employs an additional six individuals.

For news on West-end Dairy prior to the next farm page publication, check arenacindependent.com

Copyright © 2014, Sunrise Publishing. Powered by: Creative Circle Advertising Solutions, Inc.