The Best Day of My Life – So Far
Self-proclaimed cowaholic Jake Zwemmer is a third generation dairy farmer who was born and raised in the Netherlands. Because he enjoys large dairies and the power of big numbers, in 2000 he and his wife Saskia decided to move. When they started planning, they considered the entire world since, according to Jake, “if you’re going to leave you might as well find the best spot possible.”
Various locations were considered, but fifteen years ago fluid milk prices were better in the United States and production was high. After selecting the country, the couple narrowed their choices to Washington or Michigan. Washington has an outstanding climate for both cows and people, but at that time there was a sparse population and few exports. In contrast, Michigan is close in proximity to three fourths of the country’s population, supplying the Zwemmers with an almost unlimited demand. Another benefit is the state’s geographic location to the world’s biggest fresh water supply, the Great Lakes.
Today, Zwemmer Management owns four dairy farms in the “thumb” of Michigan. Each of the farms are built on the same principle; optimal cow comfort. Though Zwemmer is a big believer in genetics, he does not seek out top-of-the-line cows. He feels the Holstein genetics are good enough to give milk, but the rest of production is dependent on their health and living conditions. His latest addition, Roto-Z Dairy in Snover, MI, started milking on October 31, 2014 and now houses 3,499 of the total 10,000 cows.
Best for the Herd
Roto-Z Dairy features a 100 stall DeLaval® PR3100 HD rotary parlor. General Manager, and fellow cowaholic Ryan Hooper, has been with the Zwemmers since the beginning and chose the parlor for its durability. “DeLaval has the top-of-the-line, best rotary parlor available”, says Hooper, “it stood out as the largest in the industry and we need that kind of capacity to handle our large herd.” The simplicity of the unit’s stalls stood out as a definite selling point as well.
Roto-Z Dairy milks three times a day to maximize output. Each milking on the rotary is typically faster than one in a conventional parlor. On the family’s other farms, milkings can take 7 ½ hours; Roto-Z drops it to six.
Faster milkings are due in part to the removal of a bottle neck. At the other farms, if one cow stops or is slow to milk, it hinders the entire process. With the rotary, the cows easily get on and off with minimal delays. It is also more consistent which Carmen Zwemmer, Jake’s daughter and heir apparent, says speeds the process, “It helps the staff follow protocol. Every task has a set spot on the rotary where each cow is prepped under exactly the same conditions for optimal milk let down. The process has minimal complications, making it easier for the employees.”
DeLaval also furnished the DSG10 4-way sort gate, Activity Meter System and DelPro™ Farm Manager software as part of the complete package. The Activity Meter System helps the farm achieve a 69% heat detection rate and 24% pregnancy rate. “I’m a big believer in technology,” says Hooper, “the Activity Meter System helps improve reproduction rates and catches cows in heat. That makes our job easier.” The sort gates are easily deployed daily which is an asset Roto-Z Dairy has over the other farms. Quietly sorting cows as they exit the parlor does not scare or excite them.
The gentle movement of the rotary parlor platform also helps provide cow comfort as a form of stress relief. “Our cows enjoy it,” states Zwemmer, “When they get off they’re chewing their cud and are extremely relaxed. They like this routine.” The installation of the equipment was low-stress for the staff as well. “Our startup with the rotary was very smooth; almost perfect,” says Hooper, “It’s rare to startup any parlor without hiccups, but ours was excellent.DeLaval provided exceptional service and was there when we needed them.”
Best for the Community
Zwemmer endeavors to always give back to his community and he feels education is crucial. He mentions that if he does not educate the public, someone else will. Local school groups tour the farms to discover the nuances of the dairy industry first hand. He is also a regular exhibitor at the local county fair.
His commitment to social responsibility extends to keeping his business local. Zwemmer’s philosophy is “if you get equipment and labor from other countries, you do not need the community and the community does not need you.” This includes hiring local residents, “I have nothing against immigrants – I’m one too – but the local community comes first.”
Best for the Environment
Zwemmer’s farms are certified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). MAEAP is a voluntary program that provides a venue for farmers to become better educated about management options. It is not a government or regulatory program, but rather a partnership effort unified for the protection of natural resources and advancement of positive community and neighbor relations. The program’s mission is to develop and implement a proactive environmental assurance process.
MAEAP regularly checks a wide range of items such as feed conditions, water quality, and fuel and chemical storage. The Zwemmer’s first farm, Zwemmer Dairy in Elkton, MI, was certified ten years ago. Their next farm, Z-Star Dairy in Caseville, MI, was certified in 2007 with Z-Fresh Dairy, located on the same parcel of land as Zwemmer Dairy, following a year later. Roto-Z is scheduled to be certified in the near future.
Best for Tomorrow
An additional 80 stall PR3100 HD rotary parlor is planned for Zwemmer Dairy. It will include a complete system of DeLaval Activity tags, sort gates and DelPro software. Streamlining all the farms’ data into one fully integrated herd management software system is attractive to Hooper. He is also looking forward to the day when he can integrate cutting-edge technologies such as a Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system and Teat Spray Robots (TSRs). He feels automation will reduce their dependence on labor and provide them with the precise data to make better business decisions in the interest of animal welfare, production and profitability. At some point, Hooper plans to change all the Zwemmer dairies to rotary parlors.
Though the daily routine is important, it is not what guides Zwemmer Management. Their ambition is to expand and look to advance to that next step. Zwemmer loves experimenting with new ideas, “there’s no fun in building the same farm,” he explains, “I like challenge in my life. For me that means taking the good and building upon it.”
“What drives me? Why do I keep expanding? I don’t know, I guess that’s just how I am,”says Zwemmer, “If you’re going to go half way around the world to make your dream come true, you better make the best of it. As I’m constantly telling my staff, today is the best day of my life – so far.”