A family-run dairy
Lenkaitis Holsteins is one of only three remaining dairies in Kane County, Ill. The farm was purchased by the family in 1983 and began with just five cows. Today, three generations of the Lenkaitis family are involved, and their herd of 150 head includes 80 milk cows. The farm's owners have embraced technology, including robotic milking, to make their business sustainable for future generations. Sarah Lenkaitis manages the dairy, along with a full-time herdsman and a part-time feed mixer/manure scaper. Andy Lenkaitis and his dad do all the crop work. Andy also works for GEA Farm Technologies as an environmental systems engineer and global product manager of manure equipment.
Jessica Westerfield Photography
A ribbon cutting was part of the June 29 open house at Lenkaitis Holsteins. Family members (left to right) Sarah, Lucas, Andy, Mary Etta and Albert Lenkaitis cut the ribbon as state Sen. Jim Oberweis (far right) looked on. In the barn, visitors saw the cows and the automated systems that clean, milk and monitor as well as keep fresh feed in front of the cows.
10,000 gal. challenge
Kane County Farm Bureau
Three-year-old Lee Biddle of Elburn, Ill., with the assistance of his father John, placed a white dot on the 10,000 gal. challenge sign to mark progress toward the campaign goal of donating 10,000 gal. of milk to local food pantries. The event was held during a family fun day on the farm.
Ice cream scooping
Jessica Westerfield Photography
Kane County Farm Bureau Foundation volunteers scooped ice cream for the hungry crowd at the dairy open house. The ice cream was part of the foundation's effort to meet its dairy-focused challenge of providing 10,000 gal. toward a local hunger relief campaign.
When the Lenkaitis family built a new dairy barn in 2018, they made sure there was a meeting area and viewing window in order to accommodate school groups and others interested in learning about modern dairy farming.
The Lenkaitis family recognizes that their farm is surrounded by several housing developments, and they took that into account when determining the manure system and other such features of their newly built freestall barn. The family noted that there were a few challenges when adding the new barn, but those mostly stemmed from being in an area where the village had yet to define zoning rules. The dairy now has 80 cows in the new barn but has plans to expand to 120 in early 2020. Under Illinois law, expansion is allowed every two years.
The Lenkaitis family farm is home to 110 Holstein cows (mostly red and white). The majority are housed in a newly constructed freestall facility. The barn incorporates a modern manure handling system that includes a manure separator that allows for the separated solids to be used as bedding for the cows. The cows receive 85% of their dietary requirment at the bunk and the remainder as they go through the milking units. As Andy Lenkaitis put it, the feed bunk is where the cows get their meat and potatoes, and the robotic milking units are where they get their dessert. He noted that a careful balance is required so overfeeding does not occur at the bunk. It is important, he said, that the cows have a reason to go to the milking machines to receive the remaining 10-15% of their ration.
High tech operation
"On a traditional dairy farm, all of the cows are milked twice or three times a day by people," Andy Lenkaitis explained. "With robotic milkers, the cows decide when they want to milk. We made an investment to renovate our farm to take the best care of our cows and people, making a safe, comfortable environment for both. We look forward to providing top-quality milk for consumers for years to come." At Lenkaitis, the cows are milked an average of 3.5 times per day.
Frank, a giant Roomba-like machine, cruises the bunk eight times a day, pushing back feed so the cows can get to it. In-floor ISD markers keep it on track during its rounds and send it back to its giant charging station for a recharge.
Nutrition is what drives the dairy cows to the robotic milking units. In the bunk, the cows get 85% of their ration. When they head in to be milked, pellets are dropped as a sort of reward system. That top dressing provides the additional 10-15% of the cows' ration. According to Andy Lenkaitis, great care is taken to keep the rumen balanced. He said feed is made available at the bunk at all times, and close attention is paid to particle length.
The freestall barn, built in 2018, houses two GEA Monobox robotic milking units: a right-facing unit and a left-facing unit. With robotic milkers, the cows decide when they want to milk. At Lenkaitis, the average milking is three-and-a-half times per day per cow. Since milking takes place 24/7, Andy Lenkaitis said one of the hardest adjustments to make was walking away at night knowing that the cows were still being milked. The machines also spray post dip after milking. At present, it is estimated that there are 30 farms with robotic milking systems in Illinois. One GEA Monobox can accommodate 60 cows.
Andy Lenkaitis shows how the barn and milking systems can all be monitored from one central station. The system also allows for the sorting off of cows. For example, if a cow is back too soon for a milking, the system sorts her back off into the barn and away from the milker. The system can be monitored from any electronic device, not just the system in the barn. It allows for 11 different camera views and often comes in handy during service calls.
Rubber flooring for cow comfort
The Lenkaitis freestall barn is complete with rubber matting on the alley and in the stall areas. Its purpose is greater cow comfort.
A large manure pit is positioned under the part of the barn beneath the cows. A giant scraper pulls the waste into the pit, where it is then fed into the separator to produce a product that can be used as bedding for the dairy cows.
Shown is the manure separator on the Lenkaitis dairy farm in St. Charles, Ill. Farm manager Sarah Lenkaitis said the separator only needs to run about three hours a day to process the day's waste.
Manure to bedding
The freestall barn incoporates a modern manure handling system that includes a manure separator. The separated manure solids are used as bedding for the farm's cows. Extra solids are sold and create an additional revenue stream. The cows are bedded two to three times per week.
The new barn is all about cow comfort. Mounted brushes give the farm's dairy cows a good back scratch. Sensors monitor temperature and other conditions as well as kick on fans and raise and lower the barn's curtains accordingly.
Retrofitted calf barn
When the new freestall barn was built, the old 37-stall barn was retrofitted into a calf barn with an automated ventilation system. During the farm's recent Illinois Dairy Technology Tour, local dairy farmers came to check out the technology and to inquire about its installation, cost, payback, maintenance and more.
Positive pressure tubes
The automated ventilation system in the calf barn keeps air flowing and the inside climate controlled. The positive pressure tubes change the air in the barn four times an hour. From a cow health standpoint, it is important to keep the air inside the barn from getting stale, said Dr. Zach Janssen, formerly the veterinarian for the farm and now a tech services veterinarian with TechMix.
Prior to weaning, Lenkaitis feeds the calves a milk replacer diet that includes starter and hay. The family raises their own replacement heifers.