The decision to invest in a Waikato Milking Systems Centrus Composite rotary parlour was cemented when Doug and Bruce Benthem visited New Zealand to speak to farmers who were using them.
“We liked the concept of a composite rotary platform which is extremely light and strong but wanted to talk to people who worked in them, so we went to New Zealand. All the farmers we talked to, who were using Waikato sheds, spoke highly of them – the platforms sell themselves,” Bruce Benthem said.
Benthem Brothers Dairy is located in McBain, Michigan today milking 2000 cows on as many acres but it wasn’t always this large, or intensive Bruce recalling his father milked 30 cows.
“Doug and I took over from our father in 1981. We started a partnership and progressed from those 30 original cows. My two sons, Ryan and Kyle along with Doug’s son Jason joined us as partners with a vison to create a viable business for all five families,” Bruce Benthem said.
“I was the last one in the group to agree with the growth plans. They had to convince me it was the right thing to do. The rest of them deal with cows more than I do. I was pretty content where we were at the time; the farm was profitable and doing well. I didn’t want the farm to rule our lives, family comes first with me – before anything - but they assured me that the right growth in the right way would always have the family at the centre.”
Herd growth was limited by the milking system they had at the time, which consisted of a Stanchion system in the stalls of the barn. However, this was rectified in 1992 when a neighbouring farm came on the market with a 12 aside herringbone milking parlour.
“We moved across to the new parlour and progressively increased the size of the herd. By 2016 we were milking 1200 cows around the clock; we just never stopped and realised we had to invest in a new dairy to enable the farm to reach its potential,” Bruce said.
The farm now occupied 2800 acres, 1800 acres planted in corn and 1,000 acres in alfalfa which is cut-and-carried to the herd which is housed in purpose-built barns to protect them from extreme temperatures during winter and summer. The cows calve all year round with per-cow production currently averaging around 90 pounds per cow.
Bruce Benthem says they haven’t “done any culling for a while because we’ve been building numbers but we will get back to that. The goal is to milk around 2,300 cows.”
With the decision made to build a new dairy, Bruce and Doug began visiting various types of parlour.
“We looked at herringbone sheds but didn’t like how the cows had to be pushed into and out of the parlour.
“When we looked at rotaries we couldn’t believe how calm the cows were and how everything was going so slow but you were milking so fast. That really impressed us. Utilisation of labour was very good and the rotaries tended to have a higher level of automation than herringbones which was a consideration.”
Jason and Ryan Benthem had earlier visited Waikato Milking Systems in Madison where they met with International Sales Manager, Grant Wisnewski. Bruce recalls they came home very impressed with the company culture and the innovation of its systems. “Grant then came to the farm to meet Doug and he encouraged us to go to New Zealand so we could see a variety of parlours.”
That trip was, according to Bruce and Doug, “incredibly valuable because we’d already decided if we were going to get a rotary platform it had to be a Centrus Composite but visiting New Zealand meant we got to see the manufacturing process, from start to finish. It gave us real insight into the manufacturing integrity and ingenuity which goes into every aspect of their systems. We also got to meet the people behind all this innovation and experience the passion they have for delivering something which is unlike anything else in the world,” Bruce said.
After reporting back to their sons, the partnership decided on a 60 bail Waikato Centrus Composite rotary platform which is 75% lighter and eight times stronger than traditional concrete alternatives resulting in reduced wear and tear and maintenance costs. The new platform has Heavy Duty bails which are manufactured from higher tensile steel and are sized to accommodate large framed cows.
Centrus Composite rotary platforms were originally designed to meet the continuous use experienced in large intensive 24/7 dairy operations around the world but are now in demand, around the world, by farmers wanting an extremely strong, light platform which will outperform and outlast any other platform on the market.
The Centrus Composite rotary platform is exclusive to Waikato Milking Systems as are the Pivot Rollers which maintain perfect alignment with the support structure – the I-beam. The rollers are easily installed, adjusted and maintained.
Bruce Benthem said the Centrus was “one of the reasons we went with Waikato. We wanted a composite deck and really liked the thought that’s gone into the pivot rollers. They’re really clever, what a great drive system, it’s so smooth. You just watch it and there’s no movement except for turning.”
The Centrus Composite rotary platform is complemented by Waikato Milking Systems SmartECR (automatic cup removers), electronic milk meters, SmartD-TECT mastitis detection, SmartPULS digital pulsation system, SmartWASH fully automatic plant wash system and NaviGate Herd Management system.
Installation of the new dairy was undertaken by a specialist team from Waikato Milking Systems who accompanied the new platform from New Zealand, supported by Ryan Vanderwal of Premium Farm Solutions, Lake City.
“Everything went smoothly, better than we’d anticipated,” Bruce recalls. “The guys who came together to build it were from Waikato and were awesome, worked hard and were very fussy with every weld and every aspect of its assembly and installation. They did an awesome job. The guys take pride in it, they want it to be nice and want it to work well but there are always going to be hiccups. We had an issue with the deck leaking water into the oil bath but they got onto it straight away and the CEO, Dean Bell, rang to make sure we were happy. That’s impressive – that word goes back to New Zealand and they care about getting it right.”
The first milking in the new parlour took place in November 2016, Bruce recalling it was the first time the cows had seen anything other than a herringbone.
“The first few milkings were challenging because we had to push each cow onto the platform; when you’ve got 2000 cows to train it takes a lot of patience and time but it was worth it. After about a week they were going on smoothly.
“We’re really happy with the new platform. Three people work in the parlour, milking three times a day.”
Bruce Benthem said he and Doug have “some great kids. Our sons have taken hold and a lot of responsibility. We’ve done our growing and now it’s the kids turn. It’s great to see them doing it.
“The decision to go with Waikato was the right one; now if the milk price’d improve we’d be really happy.”