Lakeland’s School of Agriculture embraces student-led learning. In their first year, dairy students learn theory of health, husbandry and all aspects of production.

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Freelance Writer
Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer based in Ontario, Canada.

In their second year, they become part of the management team on the student-managed farm along with faculty and dairy staff. Students are divided into teams of five – a leader, a finance manager, a herdsman, a nutritionist and a PR manager.

The young people work with farm employees to learn management skills.

Lakeland College ribboncutting

Vermeer attended Lakeland from 2013 to 2015 in the animal science technology program. At the time, students worked in a small freestall barn with about 50 cows, milking in a double-three herringbone parlour.

This facility was built in the early ’80s and had seen better days. Vermeer was the dairy team leader in his second year and took part in the initial planning for the new facility.


“I knew how to dairy farm … I thought,” Vermeer says, adding, “It was Lakeland that taught me how to be a dairy farmer.” He loved this training, stating that his “passion (was) really cultivated at Lakeland.”

He comments the first year was especially valuable in teaching him reasons for doing things the way they did on the home farm. He also feels learning to conduct interviews was very valuable.

Vermeer has since returned home to his parents’ farm. The operation there has changed – from 300 cows, milked twice a day, to 450 cows milked three times a day.

He enjoyed attending the open house held for the new facility in late August. He says, “The new barn is absolutely amazing,” adding he is excited for future students.

Kristyn Child was also part of the first dairy team to start planning the new facility, fulfilling the nutritionist position on her team. She is now working full time on her home farm, milking 120 cows in a double-12 parallel parlour.

She credits Lakeland with “learning the reasons why you do what you do.” She also attended the open house event and was favourably impressed with the spacious barn, catwalks, high viewing platform and the overall good learning atmosphere for students.

Since the open house, she and her parents started thinking about robots and a feeding system for the future, but it is too soon for any decisions to be made.

Blair Dow, dairy instructor at the college, says the Dairy Learning Centre project is supported by every level at Lakeland College, Federal Government Strategic Investment Fund and Growing Forward 2 (energy efficient systems), Alberta Milk (educational quota lease and design input), dairy industry equipment suppliers, Lakeland College alumni, student-managed farm (dairy) teams and the local community.

Blair Dow

The centre will provide hands-on dairy management training for Lakeland College students and short courses for dairy producers across the province and western Canada.

The project was developed under the following guiding principles: safe student and industry training, maximize automation and minimize environmental impact, transition cow management, cow comfort and animal care, and biosecurity.

One of the goals of the college is to become the leading dairy training provider in western Canada. Production and management goals for the facility will be developed through the student-managed farm program.

Planning for the centre took three years and included the past three student teams, dairy industry, Alberta Milk, faculty and dairy staff. It takes up approximately 47,000 square feet and includes a classroom, office, biosecure entrance, feed kitchen and delivery, manure handling gear, washrooms and mechanical room.

The new learning centre also features both a robotic milking system and a double-eight parallel parlour with capacity for a total of 120 cows. New and improved headlock gates provide additional cow comfort.

Robot milking

Flooring is grooved concrete but is padded in the parlour holding area. An automatic sorting gate is located as cows leave the parlour.

Freestalls are equipped with triple foam mattresses overlaid with shavings to give cows a comfortable resting area. They are a spacious 48 inches by 72 inches with 16-foot alleys between stalls and feed rail.

A 16-foot rear crossover is located at the end of the stalls with water and grooming brushes. In addition to the freestall areas, part of the barn has pack bedding, where there is housing for close-up dry cows, calving stalls and an area for fresh or special-needs cows.

These cows have access to the robot. Cows then move to the freestall robot area, as research has shown cows milked more frequently will raise the level of production for the entire lactation, even if the number of milkings is reduced later. Mid-lactation cows move into the parlour group until dry-off.

The Herd Navigator program allows monitoring of reproduction, ketosis and mastitis issues.

a double-eight parlour

Ventilation is accomplished with the use of a 5-foot automatic curtain and 6-foot Storm fans. A full-length skylight allows the LED lighting to be dimmed. There are meters to measure power and water use in each section, allowing cost comparison between the robot and parlour.

Feed is a TMR mix, consisting of corn silage, barley silage, alfalfa hay, grass hay and top-dressing, most of which is grown on-site by the field crop students. Feeding is done using a Combox and a Vector.

A section of the facility is reserved for calves housed individually at first, then put into groups in one of three calf rooms. Two of these feature a CF1000 calf feeder. There is also a colostrum pasteurizer and freezer for a colostrum bank.

Kristyn Child expresses her feelings about the new centre. She finds it “awesome to see it come to life.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Three members of the student-managed farm team that initiated the planning process for the new facility came back as alumni to see the finished project. They are, left to right, Jake Vermeer, Kristyn Child and Russell Reitsema.

PHOTO 2: Kristyn Child, an alumni of the dairy program at Lakeland College, had the honour to cut the ribbon for the college’s new Dairy Learning Centre.

PHOTO 3: Blair Dow, left, dairy instructor at Lakeland College, explained the manure separation system during the centre’s open house in August. 

PHOTO 4: An automated milking system was installed to provide students access to newer technology and will milk early lactation animals to give them an opportunity to be milked more often.

PHOTO 5: A double-eight parlour will be used to milk mid- to late-lactation cows. Photos courtesy of Lakeland College.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer based out of Hagersville, Ontario.

Alice Guthrie
  • Alice Guthrie

  • Freelance Writer
  • Hagersville, Ontario