The Akins family has been farming in Lisbon, New York for close to two centuries. That deep history is one of the things that drives them to find the most innovative agricultural practices that will propel them forward into the next century. “We are trying to run a family farm that’s going to last,” says Ryan Akins, who represents the seventh generation on Five Mile Farm.
Cows on a carousel? It’s not at the fair; it’s at this Cabot family farm in Lisbon, New York that invested in a new rotary milking parlor to help make both cows and workers happy and healthy. Click To Tweet
Ryan returned home to work closely with his father, Mark after studying animal science and business at Cornell University. His grandparents, Dean and Betty, keep the farm’s maple syrup operation simmering. Sister, Allison, works for Cabot as a brand ambassador, but often makes her way home to help out. Ryan’s wife, Emma, and mom, Becky, are both teachers and do all the tours of the farm.
Requests for those have stepped up since the Akins family invested in a new type of milking parlor that some call a “cow carousel,” but is technically called a rotary parlor. The rotating circle of milking stalls is more user-friendly for employees and also maximizes cow comfort and care.
“It’s a better working environment for both people and cows,” says Ryan, explaining that the parlor was a big investment but is already paying back with efficiencies including significant reduction of time needed to milk the farm’s 700 cows. Less time spent in the milking parlor translates into more relaxed cows who make more efficient use of feed; it also means shorter worker shifts. “The new parlor lets us take a break in the afternoon,” Ryan says, noting that, since farming is a 24/7/365 job, he values downtime for himself and Five Mile’s employees.
Like every endeavor on the farm, the rotary parlor met clear criteria for improving performance in a specific area like cow comfort (happy, productive cows) or labor management (happy, productive employees). All new efforts on the farm have at least a 30-year outlook. “We ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing this for immediate satisfaction, or are we building this for the future?’ Everything we do has to be sustainable,” Mark says.
“We’re constantly working on how to produce milk without a large carbon footprint,” Ryan emphasizes. The Akins run careful analysis of all inputs on their farm and refine everything for maximum efficiency and sustainability. They recycle the water used in the milking parlor to flush out other equipment and they capture and divert all rainwater. They have invested in equipment that injects manure into the fields (rather than spreading it on top) for optimal absorption of nutrients and reduction of smell and run-off. Not only does this practice have environmental benefits, it also improves neighborly relations, Mark observes with a chuckle.
“Sustainable management practices to me are not about what will necessarily make us money this year,” explains Ryan, “but about how we’ll make a living on this farm every year for the next several generations.”