By Michele F. Mihaljevich
PLYMOUTH, Ind. – Over the last few years, the owners of the family-run Homestead Dairy have added several technologies designed to give their cows more freedom and to allow for better monitoring of the animals. That effort was rewarded toward the end of last year when the dairy was named 2021 Innovative Dairy Farmers of the Year.
The operation was chosen for the award by the International Dairy Foods Association and Dairy Herd Management.
The technology provides the Houin family with needed data, said Brian Houin, a co-owner. “Having more information to make better decisions about cattle health and cow performance is important,” he noted. “You can track how you’re raising them, how you’re feeding them. If I have a question, I want to have the numbers and information.”
The dairy’s cows have wearable technology that keeps track of their movements, the amount of milk they produce and how active they are, Houin said.
The farm added a methane digester in 2013. “The digester takes our manure and other waste products, that would end up in a landfill, and creates electricity,” he explained. “We’re powering about 2,000 houses. In the fall of 2019, we partnered with (University of) Notre Dame to take their food waste. The digester is seven years old. After the news about Notre Dame, it became hot and hip again.”
The farm also uses automatic feeders for the baby calves and has a robotic milking system. On the crop side, they plant cover crops and use variable rate seed, fertilizer and chemicals. “We base (the rates) on soil samples and harvest data,” Houin said. “We’re putting on just what the soil needs.”
Homestead Dairy is in two locations close to each other just south of Plymouth. One location was started by Houin’s great-grandfather and the other by his grandfather. “My great uncle is still alive and when he saw the robotics, it was just unbelievable (to him).”
The family milks about 5,000 cows and farms about 4,500 acres. Thirteen family members, some part time, are involved in the operation, Houin said.
He said he doesn’t consider running the dairy to be a job. “I love it. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of life. But there is an immense amount of pressure – it’s very hard to survive that many generations. I just want to keep it going and not screw it up.”
Homestead Dairy was nominated for the award by the American Dairy Association of Indiana (ADAI). “Our Hoosier dairy farmers across the state embrace technology to help them care for their animals, their land and community every single day,” said Jenni Browning, CEO of ADAI. “We are so proud to have the Houin family and Homestead Dairy recognized for their unique approach to incorporating so many different advances on their farm and their willingness to share their findings with universities and the agriculture community at large.”