June is National Dairy Month and Key Cooperative is thankful for all the hardworking, Iowa dairy farmers who produce the products we enjoy every day. In celebration of dairy month, one of those farmers, Key customer Caleb Stam, is telling his family’s story. As the third generation of Stam dairy producers, Caleb and older brother Nathan are proud of their family’s legacy yet embrace innovation. Today, the dairy industry is very different from their grandfather’s day, but the brothers recognize there’s great value in continuing to move forward. Nathan, his wife and four children, and Caleb, his wife and two children (with a third on the way), recently made a major change to their operation. A change that will enable them to stay profitable in a changing industry, have more time together as a family, and equip their kids to keep farming in the future.

On April 30th, after three decades of milking in a double eight hybrid milking parlor, the Stam brothers moved their cows to a new, free-flow system barn. The bottom line for any farmer is staying in the black; however, the challenge for today’s producers is to maintain profitability and increase sustainability for the next generation. The animal friendly structure will keep the Stams in production for years to come as the lower stress environment comes with an expected milk production increase of 10-15 percent over time. The concept behind a free flow system is that cows are free to come and go, deciding when they want to be milked. This is possible thanks to a fascinating instrument of modern technology, the Lely Astronaut robotic milking machine.

In the spacious new barn, 60 cows are housed on either side of a drive-through feed alley. Each side includes free stalls, a sorting pen, a concrete foot bath and access to a robotic milking station.  The station has automatic doors that let a single cow in for milking, then releases her, and sanitizes the machine for the next cow.  As an incentive for the cows to come back throughout the day, they are fed small bits of Key feed pellets during each milking. Every cow wears a necklace transponder which feeds to a wall monitor. These transponders are unique to the cow – recording her rumination (movement and gut activity) and milk production levels as insights for livestock management.

Everyone wishes they had more time to be home with the family, but none more than a dairy farmer. The free flow system is designed to allow Caleb and Nathan to run their operation efficiently, safely and with more flexibility. The new system allows them to attend family events that take place during traditional milking times. “I was able to leave the farm and go to my son’s kindergarten graduation; I wouldn’t have been able to make it with the old system,” Caleb explained. The new barn is also a safe environment for the kids to join Caleb when he’s working. “I love that the kids can be with me and I don’t have to worry about them,” he said.

Key believes in supporting our progressive dairy producers and their families. Dairy farming requires a lot of resilience and many take pride in carrying on the dairy legacy. Sustainability is becoming a focus in all agricultural pursuits and with robotics, producers like Caleb and Nathan are adding dairy to the list. Two generations of Stams, working hard and seeing it through when times were tough and prices poor, gave the brothers the opportunity to continue in their family’s footsteps. Caleb’s thankful for that chance and although he’ll encourage his kids to pursue the profession of their choice, he hopes the barn will allow them the same opportunity he had. The robotic milkers will make the operation more profitable, make farming easier for him and Nathan as they age and make succession more appealing to the next generation. “If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll hate working,” Caleb advised. He definitely enjoys what he does and the cows seem to enjoy it too.  “They say happy cows are in California, but I say they’re right here in this barn!” Caleb laughed.


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