Sixth generation manages this N.B. farm

Becky and Dwayne Perry have recently modernized their dairy and now incorporate a strategic cropping plan

HAVELOCK, N.B. — Six generations of the Perry family have farmed in eastern New Brunswick.

Dwayne and Becky Perry are the newest generation and have developed a modern dairy recognized for environmental sustainability and adoption of new technology.

Full-time farmers and the parents of three children aged eight to 11, they split duties. Becky handles the 110 cows and finances while Dwayne manages the crop side.

The most recent innovation came Thanksgiving weekend when they installed two DeLaval robotic milkers.

The cows and Becky are still learning the system that has changed her management style.

“Probably the cows have transitioned better than I have. When you are used to milking cows morning and night you know what is going on. Now you manage it from a computer screen,” she told a tour group to the farm located at Havelock.

“I still feel really close to my cows,” she added.

Thanksgiving weekend the cows were led into the robot station so they got feed and learned what was going on. About five cows still need to be taken to the milker.

Milk yield is already higher and the cows average 2.95 milkings per day. Some go to the milking station four times a day but the system is set up so each milking is five hours apart. Cows hoping to sneak grain treats are turned away if they arrive too soon.

Becky is receiving more information about the cows than ever before. Individual milk production is tracked and it can tell her if all four quarters of the udder are producing milk. It gives early warnings about possible mastitis or other illness.

“It is a steep learning curve I find, and it is a different way to manage your cows, but the cows really like it,” she said.

“If the cows are happy, everything works.”

The two robots could handle more cows if the family wanted to expand their business.

The family used a double eight milking parlour before and that area will be turned into a maternity pen.

Calves are raised in groups and are fed with an automatic nipple so they can suckle when they like. They tend to stay with their social groups.

This is a closed herd where the Perrys raise all their own replacements.

Becky has a heifer development program and tries to select three new heifers for the milking herd each month.

The couple works with a nutritionist and raise their own feed.

Dwayne manages the cropland. The farm is 750 acres of land with 450 cleared for crops, 50 acres of pastures for dry cows and the rest in forest.

They grow hard red spring wheat for one year and then rotate it with forage crops in a six- to seven-year rotation that includes tall fescue, meadow fescue, meadow brome and late maturing orchard grass. Legumes include high yield alfalfa, persistent alfalfa, white and red clover, as well as bird’s foot trefoil. Soil tests are run regularly and amendments are made.

Becky Perry says the cows have adjusted more quickly than she has to the robotic milking system. | Barbara Duckworth photo

“Our soils here are acidic, like they are throughout the Maritimes,” Dwayne said.

The soil has a pH level of about 6.5 but he would like to raise that number to seven. Lime or wood ash mainly derived from softwood is applied when available to adjust the pH levels and add micronutrients.

“There is a bit of a waiting list for it (ash). Probably a tonne to the acre would maintain the pH. I would like to be at seven but everything’s six to 6.5,” he said.

He uses nitrogen fertilizer on forage crops and spreads manure after the second and third cuts of hay. The first cut usually comes off the first of June.

This region gets about four feet of precipitation in a year and the area can be struck by heavy snow, tropical storms and hurricanes.

They are fairly close to bedrock so there is a lot heaving and dealing with subsurface water is a big challenge, Dwayne said.

In the 1980s, tile drains were put in with government support of up to 80 percent funding.

In 2015, the farm was a runner-up for the Dairy Farmers of Canada sustainability award. Environmental stewardship, environmental farm plan, nutrient management plan, conservation practices, community outreach and research are all considered.

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