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Research leads to upgrades at Brubaker Farms

Slideshow: A recent tour of the Brubaker’s Lancaster County dairy showed off the many upgrades they’ve made.

Dairy farmer Luke Brubaker remembers when 13,000 pounds per cow was impressive. These days, 30,000 pounds is the bar.

Improvements on Brubaker Farms, which he runs with his two sons, Mike and Tony, and his grandson, Josh, have enabled the family farm to increase production and efficiency, and much of these improvements have their foundation in university and industry research.

During a tour of the Mount Joy, Penn., farm Aug. 19 with state political and university leaders, the Brubakers talked about upgrades they’ve applied to the farm through partnerships with Penn State Extension and the industry.

A few years ago, the Brubakers partnered with CowManager to test out the company’s ear tag system for heat detection. The system does this through monitoring cows’ ear temperature, activity, rumination, eating and resting time.

They liked what they saw and adopted the ear tags for their heifers, which enabled them to move away from visual heat detection and using hormones, and to rely more on the natural heat cycle of their animals. The sensors, which are connected to the herd management system, have automatic notifications that let them know when the optimum breeding time is. Mike says that it has allowed them to breed cows AI within an hour of the prime conception cycle, increasing conception rates and cutting down on vet visits.

The manure digester that was installed in 2007 was updated a year and a half ago to a 335-kilowatt system with a new engine and gas scrubber. The previous system didn’t have a gas scrubber and, according to Mike, wore out the electric engine sooner than expected. They also produced more manure than the previous system could handle, so they flared off gas quite often.

A screw press separator enables the farm to separate the manure solids from the liquid. The system kills 99% of the pathogens in the solids, which are then used as bedding in the cow-free stalls. The liquid is stored in a 6-million-gallon manure pit that’s within sight of a large-scale housing development. But the digester process significantly cuts down on odor, Tony says, which is important with neighbors so close.

The digester also takes food waste from Elizabethtown College. The Brubakers theoretically could supply 335 homes with electricity, but they send 260-270 kilowatts to the local power company.

They also have a dragline system that covers about 500 acres of the 1,800 acres they farm.

The farm’s 2-year-old milking cows are also separated from the older cows, which has enabled them to customize feed rations to optimize milk production.

Click through the slideshow for a closer look at Brubaker Farm.

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