Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska
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Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Who we are

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN) is a non-profit organization supported by Nebraska Beef Council, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska Soybean Board and Midwest Dairy Association.

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Meet Our Farmers

Nebraska farmers and ranchers combine a passion for their work with a compassion for their animals. Rarely taking a day off, they make countless sacrifices to put food on the table for their families — and families around the world. See and hear how these hardworking farmers and ranchers are making a difference for Nebraska.

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Become A Partner

We need your help in ensuring that all Nebraskans know the truth about high-quality, humane farming practices in our state.

By becoming a fan of animal agriculture in Nebraska, you can help keep our state economy strong while helping other Nebraskans have a better understanding of where their food comes from.

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news & events

Brett Beavers: Bright Future for NE Robotic Dairies

Brett Beavers: Bright Future for NE Robotic Dairies

August 4 - "I have no idea why anyone would build a milking parlor over putting in robots."
 
That's the position of Brett Beavers of Carleton, Nebraska, who recently began operating one of only two robotic dairies in Nebraska. Beavers says the move can nip labor shortages in the bud, diversify the farm, improve animal management, and give dairy farmers "a more normal lifestyle, like everyone else."
 
"Robotic dairies are as much work for the owners," Beavers told the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN). "However, those hours now become flexible. We can now attend family functions in the evening, where before, we were tied to a rigid milking schedule."
 
Beavers made the move from a traditional dairy operation to a 240-cow-capacity robotic one only after spending nearly four years planning the projects and touring 35 dairy operations.
 
"We felt the most profitable way to grow our operation was through livestock, but our old parlor and free-stall building were getting too aged, and I had goals to milk more cows than that facility would allow."
 
After doing extensive research, Beavers concluded he could make more money, long term, milking fewer cows with robots than milking three times as many cows in a parlor. Reducing stress of finding qualified labor and the accompanying savings in labor costs were plusses, as well. But setting up a robotic dairy is no easy task.
 
"For most dairies that go to a robotic operation, it involves construction of a whole new facility, designed for this type of operation, said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association and senior industry-relations manager for Midwest Dairy Association. "That includes the free-stall barn, manure handling, ventilation and, of course, the robotic milkers and the milk-handling system."

Here's how Beavers set up his new dairy: "We relocated to a new site and built a climate-controlled cross-ventilation barn. By keeping the barn enclosed, we were able to keep the facility 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature by using cooling pads," he said. "Cooling pads are cardboard-type material that water passes through, and the fans in the barn suck the air through the pads, which provides evaporative cooling."

Beavers has installed five robots, each of which handles a substantial job, milking about 60 cows per day. Each cow wears a transponder, so as she enters the robotic milking machine, the system knows who she is and how much milk she is expected to give. The transponders provide rumination and activity data, which provide information regarding heat activity and whether a cow might be sick. "If any cow needs attention," Beavers said, "she is automatically sorted by the robot into the special-needs pen."
 
AFAN asked Beavers what advice he might offer to other dairy farmers in Nebraska who might be considering the transition to a robotic dairy. "In normal situations, it takes about two years to plan, permit, finance and build. But I highly recommend taking your time and doing lots of touring."
 
Johnson said that both robotic dairies in Nebraska - Beavers' in Carleton and Bill Demerath's farm in Plainview - have had positive results right out of the gate.
 
"Both had great success getting their cows adapted to the system," Johnson said. "The milk production has been increasing, and the labor requirements have been reduced.
 
Beavers said he is thrilled with the outcome. "It undoubtedly will pay for itself financially," he said. "I am already making plans to eventually expand our facility. Our site is designed and permitted with the Department of Environmental Quality to add up to seven more robots, and we have plans to do that down the road."
 
While robots initially were believed suited for small dairies only, they are proving to be a fit for any size operation. "There is opportunity for dairies that transition to robots to stay in or expand in the dairy business, while enhancing their production, their personal time, and the future sustainability of their farms," Johnson said.
 
Beavers agrees: "I believe robotic milking is the long-term future of the dairy industry," he said. "And I feel the future is bright!"

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Robots Bring the Future to Nebraska

Robots Bring the Future to Nebraska

July 26 - They aren’t science fiction or philosophizing droids, but Nebraska just might have some of the hottest robots going. Two dairy farms in the state – Demerath Farms in Plainview and Brett Beavers’ farm in Carleton – now employ robots to feed, milk and care for their cows!

Robotic dairy operations give farmers more control over their schedules and more time to do the things they simply couldn’t get to before – cleaning stalls more often, for example – and it eases shortage of skilled labor in the industry.

“Procedures with the robot are the same procedures that happen with a traditional dairy operation, except it’s a robot doing it all – cleaning the cow, attaching the cups on the udder, feeding, monitoring cow health, and more,” said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association and senior industry-relations manager for Midwest Dairy Association.

“And when it comes to milking, the farmer gets a lot of additional information than a traditional milking provides: The robots are testing the milk, the temperatures, weighing the cow and feeding them. And the feed robot is called Juno,” Johnson added. “It pushes the feed up to the cow and makes sure the cows can reach it at all times. It really ups the information and technology on the farms where it’s in use.”

It’s sort of like a Fitbit for dairy cows.

Kim Clark, dairy educator with Nebraska Extension, said the robots really step up the game for farmers. “Milking is a 365-day-a-year, 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week job, so there’s really no break for the dairy farmer,” Clark said. “One of the biggest reasons for having these robots is time, so the farmer can devote more time to caring for his animals and their overall health. But it’s also been difficult to get labor on the farms – labor that knows how to milk the cows or has any animal experience and background.”

Brett Beavers, who started his 240-cow robotic dairy near Carleton thanks to a tour of robotic dairies that AFAN took him on, says the robots have allowed him the flexibility to engage more with his family.

“On all the farms I’ve toured, everyone said it’s life-changing,” Beavers said. “You’re still going to put in the hours that you do in a traditional setup, but those hours are now flexible. So now I can help coach my kids’ T-ball team, because we can work around our family’s schedules.

Kind of like what Rosie the robot provided for TV’s “The Jetsons”, just in a slightly different setting.

For more information about animal agriculture in Nebraska, visit www.becomeafan.org, or find us on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

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New Technologies Available for Cow-Calf Producers

New Technologies Available for Cow-Calf Producers

April 10 - OMAHA, NE – Nearly 300 attendees packed a ballroom in Omaha to learn about some of the new technologies available for cow-calf producers. Over the course of two days, participants learned about calving under roof and heard from speakers discussing everything from design, economics, feeding and veterinary care to dry lot options. At the end of both days a panel of producers discussed the reasons they decided to put up a building and how they manage their cows under this type of setting. Drone footage and pictures of their barns gave attendees a better look at the layout of different barns and the panel was able to answer questions from the audience.

This is the second year an event like this has been held here in Nebraska, but this year AFAN, the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, partnered with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) as well as the Nebraska Cattlemen and Iowa Cattlemen to make this event a multi-state event. “Both AFAN and CSIF work hard to provide our farmers and ranchers with learning opportunities,” stated Emily Skillett, Livestock Development Coordinator for AFAN, “These types of barns are a newer technology and with the decreasing availability of pasture land in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, we wanted to make sure our farmers knew that there were some options out there for ways to expand their cow herd.”

With new management styles, comes new considerations to take when it comes to herd health. Cow-calf producers, Chad and Amy Wilkerson of Linden, Iowa, stated that prevention is key when using the calving under-roof approach. The Wilkerson’s answered questions at the symposium as two of the eleven producer panelists. They currently raise 160 cow-calf pairs in a hoop barn they filled for the first time in January of 2016. “In this setting you need a good nutritionist and a good vet,” Chad said. “You’ve got to have those two people in your back pocket that you know are going to be there and understand what you’re up against.”

Dr. Sara Barber, Veterinary Medical Center, explains that controlling the under-roof environment starts with proper bedding management. Dr. Barber says pens should always be kept dry and that bedding can easily be evaluated with what she calls the “dry knee test”. “Fall on your knees and if your knees get wet when you get up, you know you need more bedding.”

According to Kelly Jones, co-manager of Cactus Feeders’ cow-calf division, feed is a major cost in this production system and requires rations that can be modified to coincide with the reproductive stage of the herd. Jones suggests that too much bunk space is far better than too little, and that creep feeding areas featuring lowered bunks should be installed before calving begins. Other barn modifications may include incorporating maternity areas, working facilities and raising dirt levels around water tanks for calves. This kind of intensive management style may not fit every operation, so asking questions and reviewing research is always highly recommended.

To view the presentations and drone footage from the Midwest Cow-Calf Symposium and learn more about livestock development in Nebraska, visit our website at www.becomeafan.org.

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Who is A-FAN?

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mission & purpose

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN) is a non-profit organization supported by Nebraska Beef Council, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska Soybean Board and Midwest Dairy Association. Together, we work to support and facilitate growth of Nebraska Livestock, empowering communities by sharing agricultural knowledge to help them make informed decisions, and to connect opportunities throughout the entire food chain to sustain a thriving Nebraska agricultural sector for the future.

Meet Farm Families

Beef
Ranchers & Feeders

Nebraska is known as the Beef State because of its major role in producing beef to feed the world.

Dairy
Farmers

Nebraska dairy farmers are passionate about providing comfortable, clean, safe facilities for their cows.

Pork
Farmers

Pork producers are committed to providing proper care, handling and transportation for their pigs.

Poultry
Farmers

Poultry farmers are committed to caring for their animals, which entails making sure their poultry live in a safe, humane and comfortable environment.

Nebraska
Veterinarians

Advancements in technology and medicine are resulting in a higher level of animal care. As a result, the food we feed our families is safer and healthier than ever before.