Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The farm house.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Article from "The Dairy Leader"

Holberg Farm Ltd
“A Family Farm with History and Community Spirit”
Holberg Dairy Farm, owned by the Schwichtenberg family, rests in the shadow of Mt Cheam in the BC‟s eastern Fraser Valley. The original 112 acre farm was purchased in 1959 by Marianne and Gunther after they emigrated from Germany. A 12 acre parcel at the centre was still owned by direct descendants of the Agassiz family who began farming this land 143 years ago, and after whom the town was named. (See footnote on Agassiz). The adjoining 100 acres purchased at the same time was originally a hop farm. Another 35 acre parcel was added in 1987. Today the farm is managed by Holger, the eldest son, who operates the farm consisting of a herd of 160 cows on 147 owned acres and 16 acres rented.
Holger explains, “When my parents immigrated to Canada in 1959, dad had lost everything in Germany so they were determined to establish a new long-term family farm. To do that they established Holberg Farm Ltd now owned by myself, my brother Detmar, a writer, and sister Kerstin, an equine veterinarian here in Agassiz.” While Detmar's involvement is related to stewardship issues, Kerstin, a horse vet, has always liked to work with cows. In addition to providing veterinary assistance, she works every second week-end with her brother. The siblings' involvement is a testament to their parent‟s dreams.
“Our motto is, „a family farm with community spirit‟,” says Holger. “We are clearly a family farm, but any farm is also part of a community, part of the over-all system, and intrusive to the natural ecosystem.”
Giving back to the community and a strong focus on sustainable growth are the reasons for their extensive riparian area plantings along the farm boundaries and an adjacent slough, as well as the donation of public walking trails to the District of Kent. “We believe this generates a positive message to the community about farming and the milk industry, in addition to giving something back to the community,” says Holger, who also serves as a District of Kent councilor.

Herd Expansion / Barn Construction
Since 1960, the farm has grown from 19 cows to 160 mature cows. In June 2007, the farm purchased a 50 cow herd from Vic Epp in Chilliwack. In addition, in late 2008, a new main barn was completed, replacing the short-alley comfort stall building used since the early 1960‟s.
“Everything that could be changed was changed,” exclaims Holger. “Before our cows had yard room, they could go places for down time, feeding was individualized with computer feeders and the old-style stalls were deep bedded sawdust. But the old set-up required a lot of maintenance, it put lots of sawdust in the manure and a lot of dirty water drained off the 1/3 acre concrete slab – an environmental problem. We pumped the collection pit at least twice weekly which was a labour issue.”
The new barn is 275 ft by 105 ft, with Y2K comfort stall dividers, alley scrapers by Joz from Holland, “a particularly heavy-duty system,” and Pasture-Mat stall
mattresses with high density foam in a water-proof cover requiring far less sawdust than the old deep stalls.
Eight-foot curtained openings along both sides of the barn provide natural ventilation, supplemented by four high capacity Voltec fans. The fans start slowly at 12 degrees and reach full speed at 28 degrees, thereby providing a significant air flow before it gets hot. The fans are placed over the comfort stall area, an advantage over the more common centre-alley large ceiling fans in that they don‟t dry out the feed.
The adjacent manure pit, built in 2002, is 172ft by 72ft and 10ft deep providing a full six months of storage. A roof was installed over the pit in 2007, partly funded by the Environmental Farm Plan program.

“To be frank about it, we have had our challenges,” says Holger. ““Many of the older cows adjusted poorly to the enclosed, free stall barn with the different comfort stalls. Others struggled with the different social interactions caused by less space and intrusive alley scrapers. Initially, our milk production suffered and somatic cell counts increased, however with patience and fine tuning, the situation is steadily improving.”
Despite the growing pains, the benefits to the new system were also immediately obvious. Shortly after moving in to the new facility, a cold snap of minus 12 degrees occurred. While this would usually have resulted in frozen water troughs, manure and equipment, the new barn‟s curtains and doors resulted in inside temperatures of a balmy plus 1 degree. Much more pleasant for the cows – and the humans!
“During the summer with temperatures hitting 38 degrees, our cows were clearly more comfortable” says Holger. “While they did reduce their feed intake resulting in a 12% drop in milk; it was not nearly as great a drop as in years past, and it was apparently less than many other farms in the area”.

Adding to cow comfort is the improved fly control – the new facility is easier to keep clean and dry.
The barn construction and redevelopment of the farmyard also produced major improvements for the dry cows. An older hay barn was rebuilt providing sawdust- pack and feed areas for two groups of transition cows plus three calving pens. “The maternity barn is bright, convenient, is easy to manage. Cows enter this barn three weeks prior to their calving date which can result in the barn having up to 20 occupants. Because it‟s in a high traffic area, unassisted calvings have been greatly reduced,” says Holger. Hot water, refrigeration, and milking equipment are right on the spot making post calving treatment and care easy to manage by one person. The maternity barn layout is in keeping with Holger‟s motto, “if it‟s easy to do, it will get done properly.” In the fall, dry cows are usually pastured on the grass fields using temporary fencing.
Crop Program

The farm grows about 95 acres in a mix of clover and orchardgrass, ryegrass and Kentucky blue grasses, and 50 acres silage corn. The farm‟s Monroe series silty-clay loam with 8 feet of soil over gravel is highly productive and allows early spring work while providing good water-holding capacity. The farm does not use irrigation but it is an option for the future.

“Forage quality management is all about attention to detail,“ says Holger. “For grass silage, I prefer it not too dry – 35 to 40% DM. This results in less field loss, easier loading and much better packing. Adequate packing is critical because large-equipment custom harvesting can bring in 95 acres in one day, so we use two tractors in the bunker. We also add innoculant to all silage. Another key to forage quality is timely renovation of fields. We strive for lower ADF‟s and NDF‟s in our grass silage, about 30% ADF and 50% NDF, however, cropping is always weather dependent.”

The redevelopment of the farm also included bunker silos to replace up-right silos and the ag-bag system, partly to reduce the amount of plastic used. “Another learning curve was the management of the silo face to minimize spoilage,“ says Holger. “Currently the silage face is too big for the number of cows, using only 3-4 inches per day. And ideally, we should have two bunkers each for corn and grass silage to be able to rotate alternate bunkers during the 3-4 weeks curing period. We now use round bales during that period.”
The bunkers are 29 ft by 13 ft high, but silage is filled to the 9-10ft height. The farm does exercise excellent silo management with just a front-end loader – see photo.

Feeding Program
The single group TMR consists of 52 lbs of corn silage, 20 lbs grass silage, 6lbs round-bale grass, 4.4 lbs of alfalfa hay and 24lbs of grain mix supplied by Viterra, Chilliwack.
“Just recently we switched to twice daily feeding because we have the help to do it and it does encourage dry matter intake; maybe we need to buy a larger mixer wagon,” laughs Holger.
Viterra dairy sales and service representative, Calvin Maarhuis looks after the forage analysis and ration formulation for the herd. “We rely a fair bit on Calvin and his regular visits for ration formulation, monitoring, fine tuning, and especially for planning ahead, “explains Holger. “Proactive inventory management is essential so as not to run out of corn in fall, nor to have excessive inventory left over when it‟s time to fill the bunker again.”
Farm Labour

The farm employs two people, Floyd is a full-time milker, and Rolf , a cousin to Holger, the herdsman/assistant manager. In addition, they regularly have practicum students from Germany or France – related to the fact that both Holger and his siblings spent time in Germany as students. Also, two local students, help out on alternate week-ends and holidays.

Holger and Catherine – who teaches nursing at Kwantlen Polytechnic  University in Surrey – have three sons, Alex, Philip, and Mark. Catherine also does the farm books, a responsibility Holger‟s mother continued to do until her passing in July 2009.

Herd Management
“My goals for our herd are a modest production target of 34 litres/hd at 3.8% butterfat and 3.3% protein, conception at 90 days after calving, calving interval of 13 months and a homogeneous group of low maintenance cows,” explains Holger, “and for heifers to calve at 24 to 26 months with a score of 81-83 points.”
The herd is all registered PB with prefix Holberg, with classifications of 1EX, 66VG, 80GP, and 13G. BCA‟s are 220M, 218F, and 222P. Holger‟s sire selection focuses on top-end sires and while some embryo work is done, it is for the benefit of the herd not for sales.
Community and Industry Participation
In addition to his fourth year a councilor for the District of Kent, (pop 5000), Holger serves as a Director on the WestGen Endowment Fund Board. He is an active hockey dad with his three sons in hockey, karate swimming and skiing, and he still manages to play hockey in the Chilliwack old-timers league as well.
The Schwichtenbergs have certainly demonstrated their guiding principles of being, “A family farm with community spirit.”
Footnote: Agassiz, BC is named after Lewis Nunn Agassiz, a retired captain of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (Engineers), who became a gold prospector in the caribou gold rush and then settled in the Fraser Valley in 1867. He was related to the famous geologist/naturalist Louis Agassiz in that the grandfather of Louis was the great, great grandfather of Lewis. The great grandfather of Lewis moved to England from Switzerland, and therefore the anglicized name Lewis.
Louis Agassiz, among other notable achievements, was the first scientist to propose the ice-age. He was born in Switzerland in 1807, and immigrated to the US in 1847 as a Professor at Harvard. He died in 1873. The pre-historic lake that covered much of the great lakes region bears his name, as do several other geological features including three mountains – in California, Utah and Arizona

Article in Viterra Dairy Leader, 2010
Walter Goerzen, PAg
Viterra Dairy Leader

Mount Cheam