Excelling in Herd Management with AMS

In January 2016, the Hoftyzer Farms team moved to a new robotic barn and they couldn’t be happier. They considered parlour options during their thorough planning process and felt that the AMS industry had proven itself. The decision was made to transition from the tie stall barn that had served well for many years to two milking robots, automatic feeding, sand bedding and Herd Navigator software. “We are producing about 40% more milk with a lot less work” cites Gerard one of the four partners in the 112 milking cow operation. The herd is consistently averaging 42 kg of milk with the fat running around 4.0% depending on the season.


Hoftyzer Farms is an interesting blend of two generations of brother - shareholders with deep roots and passion for cows and the farming business. Gerard and Albert gradually took over the herd from their parents Gerard and Aleida who emigrated from Holland and bought the farm in 1950. They were milking 50 cows in 1965 when they changed to bulk shipping. Over the years, they gradually bought land and quota, renovating the barn and expanding the herd to 89 cows in 1974. Brothers Jon and Mark Bakker were raised on a dairy farm in Prince Edward County where they developed their strong work ethic and passion for rural life. In 2012, the brothers childhood dream to farm together was realized when Mark began to work at Hoftyzer's, following Jon’s marriage to Albert’s daughter Kristin in 2003. In 2015, Mark became a shareholder with Gerard, Albert and Jon. The four of them make a great team with lots of communication and dialogue on both major and daily decisions in running the business. Having youth within the management group was a big part in being comfortable moving to the facilities with so many
computer related activities in taking care of the herd.


The Hoftyzer team have plenty of positives to share with their move to the new facilities. They were pleased how well the cows especially the heifers adapted to the new system. Mark states, “if you can get the turns out of first lactation animals, it’s surprising what these heifers can do.” Jon has a real flair and interest in the software and the different information screens that he peruses daily. He also likes the idea of computer feeding to the lactation curve noting that “late lactation animals are not over conditioned at dry off because they haven’t been fed a TMR that is way over-balanced for the production level.” Albert remarks, “all of the information and data really helps to stay ahead of things and manage proactively.” Another key point is the way the fresh cows are calving out; Mark comments that “you really feel like you are doing something right.” All four agree on their team commitment to make it work!


A considerable effort goes into cropping the 900 workable acres. Corn and alfalfa – grass is grown along with soybeans and wheat as cash crops. They use “no till” and vertical tillage strategies. Peas and triticale are used as a cover crop in seeding down alfalfa. High moisture corn is stored in a sealed silo. The kernel processed corn silage is paired with haylage in making up most of the PMR (partial mixed ration). They feed as little dry hay as possible and strategically fine tune the ration with straw depending on the forages and how the herd is responding.


Hoftyzer Farms make use of all that Shur-Gain has to offer in service and technology. The ration is formulated using Newton® software. The state of the art program developed by Trouw Nutrition Canada that balances for protein – amino acids, carbohydrate fractions, trace nutrients and considers rate of passage as well as economics in optimizing cost. Careful attention is given to rumen health in preparing the farm recommendation and customized supplement pellet that is manufactured in the feed plant. Hoftyzer rations contain some unique Trouw Nutrition Canada proprietary innovations – RM104® and Selko Vivalto®. RM104 helps rumen efficiency and often has a grain (rapidly degradable carbohydrates). Vivalto is targeted at aiding liver function and in high producing herds offers a great return.

At farm level, the Hoftyzer team value the expertise by Shur-Gain professionals that include the local Dairy
Nutrition Advisor Manager – Daryl Taylor. Daryl is point man on bringing value to the herd and business. There are a number of specialized support people that are brought in from time to time to add another perspective. Both Mark and Jon point out that “it is impossible to know everything on your own; there is a just too much information out there.” Daryl works with the group to ensure the “ration on paper” is the one that the cows are consuming and helps monitor the herd performance. Shur-Gain 19% Pro-Botic™ is fed in the robot. Mark points out that “you have to feed them something yummy to get them to the robot”. Jon talks about the palatability and pellet cost and feels that part of the economic equation is labour reduction. There has been some good discussion on the feeding rate of Pro-Botic which usually runs at 4.0 to 4.2 kg per cow per day on average. This is lower than what some industry experts might recommend. Everyone agrees that it is a positive and an important plus on the economic side. Another important tool is “TeamViewer” that gives remote access to Robotic Feeding specialists at the Shur-Gain Nutrition office. Suggestions can be implemented efficiently without an actual farm visit.

There are other important discoveries now that they have been in the new barn for just over two years. Jon points out “it seems to work the best when we have 57 heifers on the one side and 52 mature cows on the other.” Albert notes what a big commitment that the barn was and just how well it is going in economic positives to pay for it. “The 174 kg of quota is being filled with about 110 to 112 cows, we are really proud of and impressed with our efficiency.” Gerard comments that “the sand bedding and improved cow comfort is a huge part of the equation.” Mark and Jon agree “automated feeding is an additional computer directed tool that has really helped our execution.”