June 12, 2023 at 3:58 p.m.
DAIRYING ACROSS AMERICA
Biding their time
Andrew and Cassandra Eadie are in the planning stages of transitioning to become 50-50 partners with Andrew’s parents. They hope to begin building a new facility in three years to accommodate a robotic milking system.
For now, they are learning and growing while paying down debt.
“In the next five years, we will be transitioned fully,” Cassandra Eadie said. “That’s the game plan.”
The team milks 525 cows near Grand Rapids. Eadie serves as the dairy facilitator while her husband manages the agronomy and fieldwork. Her brother-in-law, Norman, is a full-time employee and handles the mechanical side of the business. Her father-in-law helps full time, and her mother-in-law helps facilitate meetings among the team and assists with child care.
A crew of non-family members is on staff to get milking and other daily chores done. This includes a full-time herdsman who does all the breeding and a full-time feeder.
Eadie said they work hard to provide an inclusive culture at the farm. It has paid off by maintaining a loyal relationship with their employees. Some employees have worked there as long as 22 years.
“Our core values are faith, family, farming, honesty and integrity,” Eadie said. “We just try to make it appropriate for everyone to fit in and not feel left out or uncomfortable.”
Cows are milked in two 12-hour shifts. There are seven groups, and four of those groups get milked three times a day. The milking employees have helped design the schedule so they achieve the desired amount of work hours and the cows are able to reach their full potential.
The herd of Holsteins is averaging 90 pounds per day with a 4.5% butterfat and 3.6% protein test. The team has been working hard to achieve such results by making selective breeding decisions not only for quality milk but also for udder composition to prepare for a robotic transition.
“I’m still learning and growing,” Eadie said. “If you don’t, you can’t improve your herd.”
The trigon parlor is a set of 15 stanchions in a triangle. Cows enter from two corners and exit from the third. Eadie said it is not very efficient but has been held together and updated as much as possible with relevant milk machines to last as long as it has.
Cows are housed in freestall barns bedded with sand from the farm’s own sand pit. When robots are added, they plan to expand to 600 cows and construct another facility to accommodate the growing herd.
Heifers are housed off-site. Area concentrated animal feeding operation regulations prohibit more than 700 animals on one site, so the team is diligent about complying.
“With the price of labor, it’s either go bigger or stop milking,” Eadie said. “This parlor is not going to last forever.”
The farm has four locations: one for the milking setup and cows, one for feed, one for heifers and one for calves. They also raise approximately 240 head of Simmental-Angus-Holstein cattle for beef each year.
Eadie married into the operation and has been full time for two years. She has taken courses through their local financial institution to educate herself on the business and human resource aspect of the farm. She is currently in a mentorship program through Greenstone Farm Credit. The program is 18 months long, and education comes from an older farmer who shares their experience with farm transition, business plans and personal growth. Upon completion of the program, participants receive a percentage off of their first beginning farm loan.
“I have an amazing Christian mentor, and I have learned a lot,” Eadie said.
Eadie also uses a separate farm coach to help with the transition process, and she said the extra knowledge has helped her better communicate with employees and the entire team to understand each other better.
The team is currently working on planting corn. They farm a total of 1,600 acres of corn, alfalfa, heifer hay, soybeans and wheat. All of their crops are used for feed. An additional 200 acres is rented to a squash farmer nearby, and her in-laws have a 17-acre blueberry patch with 11 varieties of berries as well.
With all the diversity in the operation, Eadie makes it a point to focus on the people involved in the work and promoting a healthy culture.
“We’re just a family-oriented farm,” Eadie said. “Employees come first and then the cows; if you take care of your employees, they will take good care of your cows.”
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