Dairy Farm Upgrade Paves Way for Family Transition

7/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

LITITZ, Pa. — Meadow Spring Farm has come a long way from its roots as a general-purpose farm. Operated by the Bollinger family — Tom and Sue, their son Andy and Andy’s wife, Andrea — the dairy farm is on West Meadow Valley Road in Lititz.

On Tuesday, the family played host for an open house sponsored by the Center for Dairy Excellence.

The farm has seen plenty of changes during its history as a three-generation farm.

When Abram Bollinger moved to the farm in the 1940s, it was a diversified operation that included dairy, chickens, crops, beef and tobacco.

It was Tom Bollinger, Abram’s son, who wanted to convert the farm into a specialized operation, deciding to focus on dairy.

The Bollinger family today milks 360 Holsteins. When the dry cows are added in, the entire milking herd tops out at 415. The Bollingers also raise about 330 replacement heifers. It’s a far cry from the 20 cows that were milked there in the 1940s.

The operation has a newly built, double-12, rapid-exit milking parlor and several updated facilities. The focus is on cow comfort and providing a good working environment for the farm’s employees by investing in efficiencies to make their work easier.

The Bollingers are also working through a generational transition.

The farm is managed in a limited liability partnership between Tom and Andy Bollinger. Andy is now in charge of the dairy part of the farm, and Tom “does whatever Andy tells” him to do. Both say it’s a great partnership.

“It was always my goal to make this transition easier than it was from my dad to me,” Tom Bollinger said.

That approach recognizes that farm transitions can be complicated when the intricacies of a dairy operation are balanced against a family dynamic.

To help with the transition process, the Bollingers applied for a grant from the Center for Dairy Excellence to establish a farm transition team consisting of several farm advisers.

In the early 2000s, Abram Bollinger still owned a small percentage of the partnership. It was decided that Abram would give his portion to Andy Bollinger to give him a start in the transition process.

Andy joined the operation after graduating from high school, and the family agreed that for the farm to move forward some changes were needed.

The original dairy barn was converted to a “step-up” or flat parlor, and a freestall barn was constructed, expanding the herd to 160 cows.

After taking a dairy management course at Wilson Technical Institute in Minnesota, Andy Bollinger began working on the farm full time in 1996.

As the years progressed, a second freestall barn was built to move cows out of the old barn. Grain bins, a new heifer barn and a manure separating system were also added. The expansions moved the herd up to 250 and then 300 cows.

The heifer barn enabled the family to consolidate all its cows in one place. Before, the heifers had been housed in several locations

“Our heifers were raised here, there and everywhere,” Andy Bollinger said.

The last change at the farm was a new milking parlor in the old barn. Andy Bollinger said the old parlor was a great intermediate step in the operation. The step-up parlor was not old, the operation just outgrew the facility.

Tom Bollinger pushed for the change after relief milking one weekend while Andy and his family were on vacation and realizing that it was taking too much time and labor.

“It took us six hours with three shifts to milk every day,” Tom Bollinger said. “It was tiring.”

When the family crunched the numbers, Andy Bollinger discovered that the new parlor would pay for itself through labor savings.

“We started talking and penciling it out and realized we could pay it off with labor savings in 10 to 12 years,” he said. “We start to save 10 to 13 hours in labor a day — it starts to add up.”

Not only has the new parlor improved milking speed, it has also reduced the time the cows were standing in a holding pen.

The rolling herd average is between 25,000 and 26,000 with a somatic cell count between 180,000 and 200,000. The cows are milked three times a day.

In addition to family members, there are three full-time employees and eight to 10 part-time employees working on the farm.

Another change the Bollingers made to save on costs was hauling their own milk to Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa.

Tom and Andy Bollinger load the milk and a retired truck driver hauls it to Reading. Instead of paying a milk hauler, the company now pays the farm.

Depending on the milk hauler, farmers can be charged between 60 cents and $1 per hundredweight, Andy Bollinger said. Their size dairy fills a tanker every other day, he said, so hauling their own milk just makes economic sense.

The family also grows all its own forages and corn grain on 670 acres, both rented and owned. Unless there is a drought or other extreme weather, the farm’s crops are enough to feed the herd.

The family does a lot of its own fieldwork, but also hires custom operators for manure applications, combining and hay merging.

As for the future, both generations think the major expansions are done.

The goal today is “how do we do better with what we have,” Andy Bollinger said.

To answer that question, the family keeps in contact with different industry advisers, its veterinarian and others to see what new changes in the industry might work at Meadow Spring.

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

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