Lubbers Family Farm encompasses 119 acres in West Michigan. Eighty-nine acres make up the home place with a milking parlor, creamery, bakery, 10 acres of pasture, and 60 acres of heavily wooded ravines. An additional 30 acres of pasture are located two miles north of the home place. The farm practices rotational grazing for the dairy herd, raises pigs outdoors primarily fed whey from the creamery operation and scrap bread from the bakery, and has a flock of heritage laying hens also on pasture. The farm is operated by family members Jeff and Karen along with several of their children and four employees.
We began farming sustainably in 1995 following our then six-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of brain cancer. Prior to that event we were not farming. Our sustainable practices include rotational grazing; no use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides on the land; natural feeding (organic, local, non-GMO) of all livestock; composting of all manure and applying it to the land.
The goal was to resolve the problem of utilizing noncontiguous grazing acreage for dairy cows. This is a common problem facing farms adjacent to large urban areas experiencing sprawl and generally precludes livestock farming requiring extensive infrastructure. Prior to this, grass was being green chopped on the outlying acreage and delivered to the cows along with hay feeding. Lubbers Farm sought to resolve the problem by developing a “cow taxi” to move the cows around various pastures and back to the milking parlor on the home place on a daily basis. The farm would switch to once-a-day milking.
- The first summer (2010) we purchased gates and built simple gravel loading ramps both at the home place where the milking parlor was located and the North 30 where the majority of the grazing acreage exists.
- We began trial runs of moving a select number of cows on our existing (small) stock trailer to assess what would be needed in a cow taxi.
- We identified a three-month window of data collection to establish a base line prior to the three-month impact window coming up the following season when we would be taxiing full time.
- We moved the cows first to an eighteen hour milking schedule, and then to a once-a-day milking schedule.
- We began the process of identifying cows not suited to once-per-day milking and culled them.
- After reviewing literature about low stress stock handling (Temple Grandin and Bud Williams were especially informative), we decided on an open stock trailer (pipe sides, canvas removable top). We would only be transferring during the growing season. We finally located a trailer meeting these requirements in Georgia and traveled there to purchase it.
- We completed construction of the creamery on the farm (www.cowslipcreamery.com) and obtained licensing for the dairy to sell milk to the creamery. (Prior to this, the dairy was exclusively supplying our cow share program.)
- The creamery began making cheese at the end of July and stopped for the winter in October. Cheese is made only when cows are on pasture. Because of our proximity to an urban center, the high cost of land in the area, and our limited acreage, we are best suited to making low quantity, high quality items. Milk from pastured cows contributes significantly to the quality of the cheese. We began tracking the milk components important to cheese making.
- In 2011 we began to taxi the cows to the North 30 daily in May. Two trips were needed to move the entire herd, which we had now expanded to 28 cows.
- We collected the data for the impact window during the same time period as the previous summer pre-taxiing baseline window.
- At the end of data collection, the results were collated and conclusions were drawn. A summary was prepared and printed, Cow Taxi Talk, attached. A Cow Taxi workshop was held on the farm in September of 2011 presenting our results, along with a ride in the Cow Taxi, to participants.
- Our final taxiing occurred in December for this season.
- In January of 2012 our insurance company, Farm Bureau, ceased coverage for all cow share programs in the state and for all farms that had cow share programs. We closed the cow share program and will now be supplying milk exclusively to our creamery.
- Mat Haan, Pasture Dairy Center Project Coordinator, Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University
- Bill Robb, Senior District Dairy Extension Educator, Michigan State University
- Elaine Brown, Director, Michigan Food and Farming Systems
- Matt Birbeck, Project Manager, Michigan State University
Following are the measurements Lubbers used and how the project measured up. The data was collected from May 1 through August 20 in 2010 before the project began, and again during the same time frame in 2011 after the project was implemented.
**Editor’s note: Measurements are uploaded as an Adobe attachment as part of this report**
DISCUSSIONWe have reached several conclusions.
- This project has worked well for us and we will continue to taxi our cows, perhaps expanding to neighboring farms with abandoned pastures.
- The cows adapted well to loading within a couple of weeks, most walking easily on the trailer. A few needed convincing.
- The cow taxi works well for once-a-day milking. We suspect it would not work as well for twice or more per day milking.
- Cow taxiing is less energy intensive than providing hay or green chopping.
- Cow taxiing works well with small herds but would probably not work well with large herds.
- A cow taxi seems especially suited to providing milk for a value-added farm enterprise, in our case, cheese making. (Purchasing milk from area producers was problematic in light of requirements by both the MMPA and the DFA.)
- A cow taxi is well suited to lands close to an urban center. Producing value-added products under these circumstances puts the producer close to the customer which offers a host of educational, environmental and economic benefits.
- Although not part of the original proposal, we realized we experienced the added benefits (environmental and economic) of the cows naturally distributing their manure onto the grazing acreage during the growing season rather than our needing to haul and spread it.
We summarized our project and our results in a brochure entitled Cow Taxi Talk, a copy of which is attached to the report.
We held a Cow Taxi Field Day on Thursday, September 2, 2011 at 6:00pm. Invitations to the workshop were issued through a mass email from:
1) our farm (we have about 1,000 self-selected people on our mailing list)
2) MIFFS (Michigan Food and Farming Systems)
3) Michigan Fresh Milk Council
4) Michigan Organic Listserv
5) The former (sadly now canceled) pasture walk mailing list distributed by Mat Haan of the MSU Kellogg Biological Station
Sixteen people attended the event, primarily farmers; Cheese made from the milk from the taxied cows was served along with crackers made in the bakery on the farm and locally made chutney from local produce. Participants were given a copy of Cow Taxi Talk. The project was explained; participants rode in the taxi to the North 30, and the project was further described with questions being answered.
On November 5, 2011, we presented our project and results, including distribution of Cow Taxi talk at the annual National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference during the NCR-SARE Farmers Forum in Columbia, Missouri.
We continue to park our Cow Taxi adjacent to our milking parlor and include it as part of the many tours we give seasonally. We remain available to speak at other venues and to answer inquiries from individuals.