VIDEO: Dairy Learning Centre gives sector a boost

VERMILION, Alta. — Farmers and faculty point to Lakeland College’s new Dairy Learning Centre as a key element in advancing Alberta’s milk industry.

“We’ve come a long way from the bucket and the milking stool,” said Tom Kootstra, chair of Alberta Milk, during the official opening in Vermilion Aug. 22.

“Some of the (students) here are going to be part of the next generation, and will improve on the senior management team at home, so this offers a lot. “

The 46,000 sq. foot centre replaces the college’s old facility, which was built in the 1980s.

Students can use the facility’s robotic milking system and conventional parlours when managing the 280 head of cattle, which includes Holstein milk cows, replacement heifers and calves.

“Having this facility means the advancement of education of future dairy leaders in the industry,” said Josie Van Lent, dean of agriculture sciences at Lakeland College.

“When we know better, we do better. That’s what education is really all about.”

The centre’s new equipment also enhances animal care, she added.

Cows will essentially be able to milk themselves when they reach the robotic milker. Before entering, a machine scans the animal’s tag. Then a gate opens so they enter the milk parlour, which will milk, clean and seal the teats to prevent infections.

On the other side of the milker, students will view a computer screen that monitors how each cow is producing while also detecting potential issues in the milk.

“Robots provide a little more comfort because cows can get milked a little more regularly,” Van Lent said.

“In old barns, we knew less of animal behaviour than what we know today. So, the newer barns are addressing cow comfort and animal behaviour, and what’s really important to the animal in the milking process.”

Other new technologies include robotic feeders and cleaners, and students will also be taught calf management, feed and nutrition, cow comfort, and manure management.

Students were keen on bringing robotics into the facility, said Kristyn Child, who helped design the building and recently graduated with a dairy major.

“We thought it would be nice to have both because it’s a learning centre,” said Child, who works at her family farm in Killam, Alta.

“Robotics are the future, really, so why not bring that into the learning facility? It’s not that hard, but it would be great to learn and maybe bring it into our farm.”

Dairy farmers and operators are also welcome to learn about the robotic systems.

The centre will be more than just a place to learn. The herd will produce about 3,000 gallons every second day, which will be shipped to Edmonton. This means the centre will now be as large as a typical Alberta dairy farm.

Van Lent thanked Alberta Milk for providing the college with additional quota, bringing it to 280, so students could work in a larger operation. Before that, students were managing 50 cows.

“It’s so heart-warming they stepped up to the plate and are supporting education,” she said. “Now, we have the capacity to have more students. It’s not so crowded now with more parlours.”

The centre, which took about four months to build, is expected to be fully operating in early 2018. It cost $9.5 million, which includes $3.5 million in funding from the federal government and money from the Alberta government under Growing Forward 2.

Marlin Schmidt, Alberta’s advanced education minister, said the province will also partner with the college to conduct research.

“It will have a positive impact on the dairy producers,” he said. “This is a state-of-the-art learning centre. There’s nothing else like it in the country.”

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