At the 150-acre Darita Holsteins farm in Goshen, Indiana, Darrell and Bonita Richard and their youngest son Robert greet every morning without an alarm clock. They’ve been alarm-clock free since they installed milking robots in the spring of 2019.
Their robots are efficient, effective and allow each cow to be milked based on her individual needs. Darrell said before the robots were installed, he, Bonita and Robert did almost nothing but milk. “We had a turning point where we realized that we either needed to get out of the dairy business or make some big changes,” said Darrell.
It was a big decision because Darrell grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio and registered cows have been his lifelong passion, and Bonita grew up on a hog farm and was excited to become part of dairy with Darrell. Additionally, Darita Holsteins was awarded the prestigious Herd of Excellence award in 2018 from Holstein Association USA, earned by registered Holstein breeders who breed and develop excellent herds made up of cows with superior type and production.
An action shot of the new milking robot.
Photo Credit: Ever Forward: Darita Holsteins Video
Ultimately, the Richards decided to make changes by adding a new sand-bedded, free-stall barn with two DeLaval VMS™ V300 milking robots. “It was a significant adjustment for me to learn to use the technology – and still is.” said Darrell. “But it was easy on the cows; and now with the robots, we can milk our 130 registered Holsteins three times a day.”
“At the core of our operation, it’s just the three of us, and being able to work with family is one of the biggest positives. Anybody can do a good job if they surround themselves with good people – and we do. We have a great nutritionist; our veterinarian is excellent; and our community is so supportive – they help us capture the genetic potential of our cows,” Darrell said. “Foremost Farms Field Rep Brendan Christ is just a call away and troubleshoots things like bacteria counts, inspectors, temperature charts and more; and our Board member Roger Hibschman is available to ask about things.”
Foremost Farms Field Rep Heather Miller brought the Indiana Dairy Association sponsored farm tour to Darita Holsteins. “They wanted to bring in food industry people that had never been on a farm before, including one guy who owns McDonald’s restaurants in Indiana and Michigan. Next thing we know, McDonalds wants to bring even more people to our farm. We want to help educate the public about where their food comes from.”
Darrell appreciates that the cooperative has given him the opportunity to increase production and grow as needed. “I was so thankful Foremost Farms didn’t need to dump any of the milk when there was an oversupply. We deeply appreciated that they found a way to utilize all of it.
“We [the members] are apt to complain when it’s tight on our end;
but management also has it tough.”
“We’ve come through a number of years where the margins were so slim; but if I pick a time and place in history where I’d want to live, I wouldn’t pick any time but now. Looking back at history, I see that the challenges we face today are minor. We aren’t farming with horses anymore! Even though things aren’t perfect – we have so many freedoms – we can travel, we have good health. I can still put in a good day’s work. We can’t leave God out of the equation, and we’re deeply grateful.”
Bonita and Darrell are also grateful for their five grown children and 12 grandkids and enjoy when they can come to the farm. “We are adamant that milk is a healthy food, and we provide free milk to them all. We feel so happy that our kids and grandkids come here – it makes us feel like we passed along to them good things. Robert is 24 years old and is so helpful here on the farm – he’s not married yet, so we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. We are grateful to pass to the next generation a solid dairy farm.”