Dairy farm family not satisfied standing still

The Lindenbachs say the larger barn’s ventilation system helps prevent heat stress in the cattle. | MELISSA BEZAN PHOTO

On the Farm: After farming for more than 100 years, the Lindenbachs’ latest step forward was to build a robotic barn

Down a gravel road just north of Balgonie, Sask., is a building fondly referred to as the “big green barn.” It’s a landmark, of sorts. And inside that big green barn is a large dairy operation.

Kenton Lindenbach operates Robella Holsteins with his family. In the yard, three houses surround the big green barn, showing generations of dairy and grain farmers working together. According to Kenton, the farm has been in his family for more than 100 years.

“(My grandfather) was in and out of Holsteins,” Kenton said. “He was milking in the ’50s for a couple of years, and then he realized it was a nice steady income for a family and got back into it.”

The family slowly began to grow the herd, which has now reached 100 to 110 head. Each cow is lovingly named, written on a tag underneath its number.

According to Kenton’s wife and involved member of the operation, Alicia Lindenbach, the herd is like family.

With a herd of cattle that large, the Lindenbachs had to invest in a way to milk their cattle more efficiently. So, about five years ago, they began planning for an extensive robot barn.

After years of planning and a year of building, the barn was operational in February 2020.

The barn was a large step up from their former tie-stall barn. The robotic barn had to be constructed from scratch, and is more than double the size of the tie-stall barn.

These twin calves were born July 7. Robella Holsteins, like most dairy farms, calves year round. | MELISSA BEZAN PHOTO

Kenton said they upgraded because of the excessive labour.

“It was just trying to staff it and put in the labour ourselves. It was grueling,” he said. “Everything over there was manual.”

“Dad’s 63, and his knees are shot, his shoulders are shot, and that’s all from bending and milking cows twice a day.”

Now, with the robot barn, almost everything is automatic. Kenton can control almost the entire barn from his phone, whether that’s the fans, the robot milkers or the collars the cattle wear that reports their data.

Even with all that technology, Kenton said they still are very hands-on.

Alongside their robot barn, the Lindenbachs are also passionate about breeding and genetics, which started with Kenton’s father.

“We really enjoy the genetic side of things,” Kenton said. “That’s what really fuels our passion. If it was just getting up and milking a commercial group of cows, we just wouldn’t have the same drive. It’s really the genetics that motivates us, to see those animals improve generation after generation.”

The Lindenbachs also show cattle as a way to promote their high-quality breeding.

Kenton said they look for many things in a well-bred cow.

“She has to have moderate stature and exceptional mammary.”

It’s more than that, though. Both Kenton and Alicia said it’s important for their cattle to pay the bills.

“We want a cow that can stand at the top of the ring, but also work in every facility every day so she can pay the bills for us,” Kenton said.

To get high quality genetics, the Lindenbachs are strict about how they breed their cattle.

“We do a lot of embryo transfer, invitro-fertilization, sexed semen, and then really being specific on what replacements are getting bred Holstein and which ones are getting bred beef.”

Kenton and Alicia Lindenbach operate Robella Holsteins outside of Balgonie, Sask. Kenton’s family has been farming in the area for more than 100 years. | MELISSA BEZAN PHOTOJust like everything else at Robella Holsteins, their breeding regimen is a lot of work, but Alicia said it’s worth it.

“We strive for high production,” she said. “Our breeding program is very specific, so we put in the hours to see the rewards.”

Kenton grew up on the farm. Now, he and Alicia have their own young family.

“I can’t imagine raising a family anywhere else,” Kenton said. “It’s a great place to grow up. And I think it’s really important nowadays to show that next generation the work ethic it takes to be involved with animal agriculture.”

The new robot barn also allows Kenton and Alicia more flexibility to be with their young family.

“With the old barn, I would get in at like 7:30,” Kenton said. “I was out there longer than anybody else.”

“With this, I’m in for supper and spend time with the girls before we put them to bed.”

Alicia said that although one day they might want to expand their operation, for now, they’re happy with Robella Holsteins.

“There’s room to expand, but we’re happy with where we’re at.”

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