Open House for the cows at Morgenacker, Benken

June 14, 2011:  Yesterday 65 cows held Open House at the Morgenacker farm in Benken, Switzerland . -Because really, that’s who most everyone went to see, not the co-owners Rublin, Schurter and Räss. And what a house it is – the most ultra modern dairy facility in Switzerland. And definitely open – there are no walls anywhere, just curtains rolled up that can be unfurled in bad weather.

I wanted to see what kind of a Swiss farmer would be bold enough to build a large new dairy barn with a milking robot. Milk prices in Switzerland have gone down not up. And most farmers have less than 30 cows. The atmosphere in agriculture circles is often negative. So who is this?

Four Swiss farmers secure themselves a future in the dairy industry by partnering together to build this modern barn with a robotic milking system.

Four Swiss farmers secure themselves a future in the dairy industry by partnering together to build this modern barn with a robotic milking system.

It’s not just one, but four. Martin and Irene Rublin got together with two of their neighbours, Räss and Schurters to finance and operate the new barn. All four partners had 10-15 cows each in old facilities. It was either quit milking or take a bold step. Rublins own half the business, the other two one quarter each. Rublins are also the driving force, doing much of the labour, together with Martin’s 69 year old mother, who is still very active.

Martin says Irene has a special touch with the cows, often noticing one is sick a day before anyone else would.

Martin says Irene has a special touch with the cows, often noticing one is sick a day before anyone else would.

Somehow the idea that this is still very much a family business intrigued me, considering the very modern facility and the four way partnership. I was interested to know what they did to ensure that the business would prosper. Partnerships often fail because of the human factor. We’ve had several family members in Switzerland try farming partnerships and after some years break them up again.

Martin laughs. It’s a very intricate document, he says. They had help from the Agriculture department, to work out the financial and structural details. Everything is laid out very clearly – both their share in profit as owners, and the hours and wages as employees – because everyone is both.

They’ve worked together with these neighbours for a long time already, sharing machinery and work, and know them well. There’s quite an age difference in the partners – Irene is 25 and pregnant with their first baby which is due any day. Martin is 35, one neighbour 45 and the other 55. Is age an issue? It isn’t, Martin says. In fact, the oldest has the most drive sometimes.

It’s definitely an upbeat atmosphere. The local Sport Club has a busy canteen going, with beer, cider and coffee to go with the Bratwurst and homemade cakes. The kids entice the calves to suck their finger; some boys try to upset the bull so he’ll paw the ground. Groups of farmers stand all around the lofty barn and press into the small milking room with the robot, and discuss the merits of it all.

The kids and the calves seem to enjoy the opportunity to get to know each other better.

The kids and the calves seem to enjoy the opportunity to get to know each other better.

I’m always excited to see young farmers with a positive perspective on the future. This open house should be an encouragement to the Swiss farming industry. It was to me.

 

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