The families behind United Pride Dairy just outside of Phillips are embracing some relatively new technological updates in the world of farming along with overhauls to improve energy efficiency as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the partnership that first brought them together.
Jon Pesko and Ed Jasurda made the fateful decision to combine their families’ farms into United Pride Dairy back in 1996, with the Pesko and Jasurda families both putting in more than 100 years of farming in the Phillips area.
As one new development at United Pride, an automated calf barn was constructed at the farm last fall and went into use in Nov. 2015.
Jon Pesko, co-owner and CEO of United Pride, explained that three factors went into the decision to move calves from individual calf huts to the combined, tech-driven structure.
First off, the barn’s set up allows calves to replicate natural eating patterns and suckle at a feeding station as often as they’d like to throughout the day. In the past, staff members would follow the more common farming practice of feeding the calves larger quantities of milk twice a day. Computer technology monitors the amount of milk calves drink throughout the day and prevents them from overdrinking it. An alert is also sent out to staff members about calves who don’t feed as frequently or as quickly as in the past. This way, those at United Pride are able to spot potential sickness in the calves more quickly.
“However, nothing replaces the staff and their ability to eyeball a calf and know that something is wrong – when you work with the calves day in, day out, you get to know their behaviors and human contact with the calves is also critical to their health,” Pesko stated.
As one other factor underlying the decision to switch calves over to the automated barn, the animals find a more consistent environment than what was offered by the outside hutches, where calves were more exposed to nature’s elements. Calves can snuggle in straw bedding if they’re in a mood for a nap or sprint from one end of the pen to the other if struck by an energy burst, Pesko noted, adding that the calves even have balls that they can play with in the new structure.
The last reason for switching over to the barn related to staff comfort. Like the calves, farm staffers would previously confront all sorts of weather conditions, including days of extreme wind chill, sleet, rain or snow, when heading out for feeding duty.
Two other new structures have recently gone up besides the calf barn. The first is a transitions or special needs barn, which houses cows from two weeks before calving until a month after they give birth to the calves.
That structure was constructed for the specific purpose of providing a comfortable and spacious environments for the cows it shelters, according to Pesko.
Featuring cross ventilation to boost animals’ comfort, the area holds five big pens devoted to calving as well as a surgery room for veterinary visits. It also contains a large open area where lame or ill cows can be observed as they recover.
The structure went up near the parlor and herd room to ensure that staff would be readily available in the event that they were needed in the barn.
With United Pride welcoming an average of eight new calves a day, the transitions barn is staffed 24 hours a day.
There’s also a new shop and maintenance area – easily spotted as the first building awaiting visitors as they turn into the farm’s driveway. The farm had outgrown its old shop, constructed at the start of the partnership in 1996, due to the larger size of farm equipment.
Over the last two decades, United Pride saw a jump from one worker in the shop to a roster of seven full-time employees as well as part-time drivers who lend a hand when the time for cropping rolls around.
As one other new high tech feature, a drone was recently introduced to go where staffers and owners can’t. The unmanned flying craft is primarily used for capturing aerial views of farm fields and in the process alerting everyone to bear damage in the corn crop, spots that would benefit from more fertilizer, weed infestations or wet areas, among other applications.
Pesko noted that when walking through corn crops, a person can only see a few feet in front of themselves making it hard to monitor such issues on the ground.
He also sees the potential to use the drone for educational purposes, for example, the making of informational videos highlighting the cropping process. The drone recently kept area fourth graders captivated as it climbed overhead at the students’ annual visit to United Pride this May.
In other recent developments, United Pride welcomed Jeremy Pesko and Bill Harper to the ownership team in October 2014. Jeremy is the son of Jon Pesko and Bill is Jon’s son-in-law. Both of the men bring more than 12 years of experience at United Pride to the ownership team.
Co-owners look forward to the new partners carrying on the traditions of United Pride as they begin the transition toward handing over the reins of the farm.
Pesko emphasized that those at United Pride are continually seeking ways to cut down on their carbon footprint.
In a recently completed energy audit, one area that really screamed out for improvement was the farm’s 20-year-old lighting, according to Jon.
With that observation, United Pride just wrapped up a project to replace its old and inefficient high-pressure sodium lights with energy efficient LED variations. Lighting in three barns, the shop, sand recycling room and outside fixtures was all upgraded in the overhaul.
High-efficiency fans that are complaint with Focus On Energy Program standards have also been put into use in the farm’s newly remodeled cross ventilated barn.
Beyond that, those at United Pride continue to update GPS mapping of all its fields in order to facilitate more efficient use of fertilizer, weed control chemicals and seed, according to Pesko.
The use of GPS eliminates overlaps in application since United Pride’s equipment is GPS compliant and automatically shuts down various parts of the equipment, for example, the planter or sprayer, as necessary. United Pride team members will also have the ability to use yield mapping of its different fields to help connect individual patches of ground with the proper amount of nutrients.
United Pride Dairy is located next to the railroad tracks at W5993 Little Chicago Road, which intersects with Highway 13 south of Phillips.