Bergan Dairy in Elkader, Iowa has been in the family for four generations. Today it is owned by Dennis and Lori Bergan, their son Andrew and his wife Meghan. In the mid-1980s Dennis and Lori were milking 60 Brown Swiss in an existing tie-stall barn, with no option to expand. In 2001 they relocated the dairy operation to a 24-acre site on the home farm, building a 112-head free-stall barn and parlor facility which allowed them to double their herd size by adding 60 Holsteins. Their eldest son Andrew began working on the farm full time in 2011 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with majors in Ag Business and Animal Science.
Over the years, the Bergans have continued to expand both their facilities and their herd. They currently milk 300 head of high-quality Holsteins, and keep a few Brown Swiss, in their double 8 parallel parlor. In 2023, with the help of the expert team at their local Lely Center, Precision Dairy Equipment, they installed a Lely Vector automatic feeding system featuring two Mixing Feeding Robots (MFRs) and a crane mounted precision grabber for automated loading of the MFRs. Since they started feeding with the Lely Vector, the Bergans report sustained production even in summer heat.
The decision to make the switch to Lely robotics came after a long period of research and consideration. The Bergans have attended the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin for many years, frequently stopping by the Lely booth to learn more. Initially intrigued by milking robots, ultimately, they decided their milking parlor was well in hand and pivoted to other areas primed for optimization and improvement. The Bergans began planning how to increase feeding efficiency and answer a couple internal questions:
“How can we be more independent of needing employees?
How can I do more with less time?”
“One place we struggled was with feed push up and bunk management. You know, weather patterns, having employees making decisions on increasing or decreasing feed, trying to reduce waste,” said Andrew, describing some of the challenges they were trying to overcome. The Lely Vector automatic feeding system addressed their concerns on how to better feed their herd while reducing costs. Almost instantly the Lely Vector saved the farm on labor costs. Before the Lely Vector, the work of multiple employees went to loading, mixing and feeding in the barn using a TMR mixer and skid loader. With addition of the Lely Vector, the Bergans found not only was feed mixed more accurately and uniformly, but they could also feed smaller portions more frequently, around the clock and even when labor wasn’t available. “We’re pretty big believers in small meals multiple times a day. We love the concept of that. It keeps the feed a lot fresher in the bunk,” Andrew says.
With employees freed up from feeding duties, their time and effort was redirected to other, higher value tasks. “It's definitely been a change in how we manage. That's definitely freed up a lot of time for the guys, and savings on the tractor, skid loader, TMR mixer. The depreciation on those things is expensive,” Andrew commented, adding, “It didn’t really take a lot of pounds of milk to make the thing cash flow itself in a relatively short period of time.” He also pointed out the significant fuel savings achieved thanks to the Vector’s electric operation. Additionally, the new management style improved work/life balance. As Andrew put it,
“I'd rather get a phone call to come move a robot around for two minutes versus having a TMR mixer broke down on a Sunday or Christmas.”
When asked what he was most proud of at their operation, Andrew was quick to answer, “We have a good work environment, a good group of employees and we all seem to be able to work together pretty well. Overall, I think we just have a really nice small farm environment that we've put a lot of work and energy into and turned it into a facility to be proud of.”