American and West European influences
In terms of design, the farm looks like an American dairy farm. The production is around 13,000 kilogrammes (kg) per cow per year. The cows are kept indoors all year round. The heavy automation and relatively light mechanisation are more European inspired. There are two tractors of around 110 kW (150 hp) for the pasture work. Harvesting is done by contractors. The farm has eight milking robots and two Lely Vector feed robots. "For the automation we look at what is happening in Northwest Europe," says Michele. "For the management, we look at how it is done in the US. I go there every year for a week and visit large scale farms to learn from their management practises. My sister Monica has just returned from a trip to the US where she delved into the latest calf rearing practises. Michele thinks that the Italian level and knowledge of the dairy sector is incompetent. The farm has a pregnancy rate of 23%, which is well above the average in the region (12%). On average, the cows are again pregnant after 110 days post calving. Heifers calf at an average of 23.5 months. Calf mortality lies at 2%.
Milk price and cost price
In 2010, the company grew from 280 to the current 450 dairy cows. "By investing in milking and feeding robots the required amount of labour has not changed," says Michele. "We do the work with six men, but we now produce around 5 million kg of milk per year, 2 million kg more than in 2010." Those extra kg reduce the costs to a great extent. The family is one of the 11 members of the cooperative dairy San Lazzaro, that processes around 16 million kg of milk into Grana Padano cheese each year. This type of cheese is a hard, slow ripening cheese with an EU Protected Designation of Origin. The cooperative paid in the first three months of 2016 between €0.39 and €0.41 per kg of milk and forecasts to have a minimum of €0.38 throughout the rest of the year. For consumption milk, Italian dairies only paid around €0.28 per kg in the first quarter of 2016. "Our cost price is about €0.38. With the expansion and a new barn, the milk production per cow will certainly rise. Last year, production fell by 20% in summer. That decline will be much less in the new stables, as these are equipped with much better ventilation systems. We think the replacement rate of the cows will also improve. This is currently 41%, with 11% involuntary replacement. That replacement rate could drop to 30% in the new setting. We hope that milk production will increase from 13,000 kg now towards 15,000 kg, thus reducing the cost price to €0.35 in 2017, when the new barn is running at full steam."