A feature in our 2022 Spring issue, written by Julie Ashton.
For most dairy farms across the world, there comes a time when major succession decisions need to be made. And this was no different for the Lindenbach family of Robella Holsteins. Tough decisions needed to be made, but ultimately those choices have created opportunities that will carry the Robella herd into the future.
Located in Balgonie, SK, just east of Regina, the farm itself is a century old, but Robert and Ella Lindenbach didn’t start dairying until 1970, thus starting Robella. Their son, Reg and his wife Julie took over the farm in the 80’s and purchased the first Registered Holstein and now the next generation is taking over. Kenton and Alicia, along with their daughters Rylee and Addison, manage the dairy, while Braden, Cara and daughter Ella manage the grain operation.
Over the last four decades, the family has continued to grow the herd, but the extensive labor involved with a tie-stall set-up encouraged the family to consider their options. “The old facility was very hard to staff and keep things looking and running how we wanted,” remarked Kenton.
While some young couples would forgo an expensive upgrade and just move on from the industry, the family instead decided to invest in their future and forge ahead in the Registered business. “We made the choice to go with robots as it allowed us to achieve consistency in milking reduce physical labor and increase the flexibility in our daily live,” said Kenton.
A new barn was completed in February 2020 and features two DeLaval robots, sand freestall, perimeter feeding, an automated feed pusher and an alley vacuum scraper. “The transition was a larger challenge that we anticipated, both for cows and people,” said Kenton. “Initially we struggled to find our new management style, and the cows had some footing issue. Cows in heat and fetch cows also presented us with some challenge.”
Now, with two years under their belt, the Robella crew has most of the kinks worked out. “We have clued into our new ways of managing the herd. The cows are settled in, and we now know how to manage cows in heat and foot problems in our facility,” commented Kenton. “We called a lot of our friends in the industry and took all the advice we could get along the way. As cows continue to calve back into the new barn, it gets a little easier every day and we can see we’re on the path to achieving our goals!”
Prior to the robot facility, Robella was milking around 60 head, and they knew they would need to grow their numbers for the new barn. “With the anticipation of moving into the new barn, we were in ‘growth’ mode for a long time,” said Kenton. “Now that we have the numbers we want and with the value of replacements decreasing, our breeding goals have changed over the past year.”
The breeding program has always been forefront, and the addition of the robots has really allowed Kenton and Alicia to focus more specifically on the top 50% of the herd. These cows are bred using sexed semen, flushed and IVF’d, or the odd exception of using conventional semen with the hopes of breeding a bull for stud. The remaining cows are bred to beef, allowing them to keep their replacement numbers lower, manage the current feed shortage and increase revenue on all animals sold.
“Ultimately our goal is to breed a moderate stature, high-producing, exceptionally uddered, balanced cow – the kind of cow that can perform in the show ring and in any dairymen’s barn. She’s the kind of cow I believe all dairy producers can appreciate,” Kenton remarked.
Today, the herd is meeting these goals, with a 40 kg (88 lb) average per cow with 4.35% fat and 3.3% protein. They have received the SCC award for the last 3 years for the province of Saskatchewan and average 65 SCC currently. They have 21 ME cows, 12 EX, 72 VG and 30 GP.
Robella has focused on building their herd from foundation cow families from Glenridge, Vandy-K and Ells. With their focus on breeding from strong maternal lines, it’s no wonder they’ve been recognized for their efforts. In 2018, they were named Saskatchewan Holstein Branch Breeder of the Year in 2018, Premier Junior Breeder at the 2017 & 2019 BC Spring Shows and have received numerous All-American and All-Canadian nominations over the last decade. New additions to the herd trace back to EX-97 Blexy, EX-95 Prude and Lone Pine Grandious Thunder (EX-95).
Robella Sanchez Marabella (VG-89-3Y EX-MS) was a standout in the herd from the beginning. She had a best record over 20,000kg milk 3.8F 2.9P at 3-05. Her dam was Robella Reg Macy (EX-94 5*), Nominated All-Canadian 5-Year-Old in 2013, then two more VG dams.
In 2016, Marabella was the winning Junior 2-Year-Old at the Calgary Spring Show and followed that up with a 3rd place finish and Best Bred & Owned award at World Dairy Expo. That earned her an All-American nomination and All-West honors. She would return to the ring in 2018, capturing Grand Champion honors at BC Spring Show, an
event they traveled 18+ hours to. While Marabella was unfortunately lost shortly after, her six daughters sired by Sidekick, Tatoo and Jasper are all scored Very Good in their first lactations. Four are currently on the farm with exciting futures ahead of them and two of them are recently fresh on their second lactations awaiting the classifier.
In 2018, PDF Goldwyn Highball (EX-94-4E 7*) was named Saskatchewan Cow of the Year for Robella and partners Lampada Holsteins of Manitoba. She had two Superior Lactations with over 140,000kg milk lifetime and all 13 of her daughters were GP+ or higher, with 4 EX (2 @ EX-94) and 6 VG. She was All-West 4-Year-Old in 2012 and Nominated All-West Mature Cow in 2016.
Robella Goldwyn Edgeley (EX-94-3E) is backed by an EX-90 5* Dundee, then VG-86-3Y 4* Gibson then EX-90 Leader tracing back to the Ells herd. Edgeley was the winning Senior 2-Year-Old class and named HM Grand Champion at the 2014 Manitoba Spring Show. She traveled to Madison and stood in the top half of a very competitive class, but she caught the eye of Ferme Petitclerc and traveled home to Quebec with them after the show. The following year, she was the winning Senior 3-Year-Old and Reserve Intermediate Champion at the Royal, securing a Reserve All-Canadian honor. She continued to do well for Petiticlerc, named HM All-Quebec Production Cow in 2018 & 2019, and has four Superior Lactations. Of her first four classified daughters, three are VG.
Robella added some color to their Holstein herd in 2018 with the addition of Coytee EW Strait Tequila Nite (EX-95-2E). She was Reserve Grand Champion at the Western Dairy Showcase that year and followed up that with a Grand Champion win in 2020 and Reserve Grand
Champion honors this past year. She was nominated All-Canadian Mature Cow this past year as well. She has two VG daughters, and her Victorious Junior Calf was Junior Champion at the Westerner this year as well.
While focusing on genetics and breeding a better cow are foremost, they are certainly not the only items keeping the Robella crew busy. Recently, the farm has been brokering cattle from surrounding dairies to ship mainly to the states, which presents challenges along with unique opportunities. Kenton is also a sales rep for an AI company, which keeps him on the road a few days a week. “Running a farm, having a young family and working another job comes with many challenges,” Kenton remarked. “To say I have it all figured out would be a lie. What I do know is that I have an amazing support system, especially my wife Alicia who keeps things running at the farm daily. We also have a great team of employees, and we are learning the importance of balance.”
Kenton also knows the importance of being active off the farm. He served on the Young Leader Advisory Committee for Holstein Canada and has judged provincial and 4-H shows in B.C., Alberta, and at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. He is also the Western Representative for the Show & Judging Committee for Holstein Canada. Additionally, he is serving as one of the chairs of the National Convention Sale, which will be held in Saskatoon in April. “It’s exciting to be able to have an event so close to home,” Kenton said. “I believe Western hospitality is something we are so proud of and being able to showcase that and the quality cattle we have is pretty darn special! It will also be a change to just go three hours down the road for a show, versus 12 or more.”
The robot facility was the first hurdle on a long road to a bright future for the Lindenbach family. With that successfully overcome, they look forward to the future of reaching their breeding and production goals. Kenton concludes, “We believe that the time will come when Robella has their first homebred EX-95 cow and a Master Breeder Shield.”