High-tech farm, high-yield Holsteins

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Brian and Amber Craswell fed the cows on their South Rustico farm from the comfort of a Paris hotel room.

Being one of the most automated dairy farms in North America has its advantages.

Overhead video cameras monitor the barn as the high-tech machinery remotely feeds the herd its “cow casserole” of alfalfa, corn, and hay 12 times a day. They have a fully automated seven-minute milking stall that their herd of 100 march into - one by one - whenever they feel the urge. 

They don’t even need to shovel manure anymore. A hydraulic alley scraper drags the area behind the cows every hour. 

“Cows don’t like to be disrupted,"  Amber Craswell explains. "Dairy cows love routine, and they want to be bored to death. The less we have to bother them the better.”

Craswell, who hails from a dairy farm in the Eastern townships of Quebec, met her husband Brian, whose father was legendary Island Dairy farmer Athol Craswell, through the industry.

She was working as an accountant in downtown Montreal but anxious to get back to her roots.

She and Brian used their industry knowledge and her accounting skills to build his family’s Crasdale Farms into what it is today, a clean, profitable, high-tech dairy farm with some of the best bred Holsteins in North America.

“We have a fixed price for what we can get for our milk, so after that it’s all about economy,” she said.

The Craswells have taken advantage of several government programs to grow their successful business.

Through Innovation and Technologies Growing Forward Program, they purchased the automated feeder and the Herd Navigator,  an advanced analysis system which identifies every milking cow in need of special attention, and gives farmers clear information, early and specific attention alerts to improve production efficiency, profitability, animal welfare and food safety.

​And they can turn it all on and off from anywhere in the world.

“We get to travel and see things and meet people,” she said.

“The (provincial government) has given us the opportunity to learn about this technology. That’s the benefit of living on PEI, you’re close - everything is hands on.”

Their herd steps into a milking stall and within seven minutes a cow is cleaned and milked while it munches on some treats. Electronic sensors take a digital photo of the animal then a machine washes each teat and milks the cow while the computer tracks the flow from each quarter.

Their top producer is their “boss cow” Gemstone, an eight-year-old who is their peak producer at 65 to 70L per day.

Beside dairy farming, the Craswells are a big part of the cattle auction business. Brian Craswell Auctions is a worldwide auctioneer. The couple own a dairy bull named Crasdale Bankroll and his semen which is sold round the world.

“For its size, with just two per cent of dairy cattle in Canada, PEI is able to produce good genetics and show winners.”

Which makes Prince Edward Island a mighty force in the milking world.

Prince Edward Island is the Mighty Island - we may be small, but we make big things happen.
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