Ed-Mar Dairy farm, family-owned for 70 years, goes high tech with ‘Pearl’ to manage 56 cows

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

Nestled on top of the rolling hills of southern Kenton County, the 130-acre Ed-Mar Dairy farm has been family-owned for over 70 years. Eddie and Marcy Gibson love the farm life, raising dairy cattle to produce milk and cheese. It is their passion.

The farm’s silo

Eddie is a 4th generation dairy farmer, taking over the family business in 1982. In 2006, he moved his dairy farm to the current location, a farm bought by Marcy’s grandparents. Her grandfather ran it as a typical farm of the time, raising sheep, goats, and cattle.

The silo on the farm is another indication of their passion and how important family is. The silo bears the silhouette image of their daughter when she was four years old, feeding a baby cow.

Six years ago, the farm made a change. Ed-Mar Dairy is now high-tech, using the first robotic milking machine in the Commonwealth named “Pearl.” This leap has helped the Gibson’s keep their cows healthier, consistently producing high-quality milk.

The Gibson Family – Maddie, Eddie, Marcy

The cows wear collars with responders that include their GPS. Information collected is sent to a software system that Eddie monitors. The dashboard looks like a series of tons of gauges, providing vital details about the heard and each cow.

When they go to Pearl for milking, they get a snack, which may be why there is always a line. Pearl controls how much they receive so they are not overfed. But the more milk they produce, the more snacks they get.

Eddie says watching the cows trying to get snacks can be humorous and frustrating at the same time. “Some just about do that, make a circle to get another snack. [Cow] 814 really likes the snacks,” he says. This is where the collar does one of its many jobs. Pearl reads the responder, identifying the cow. If it has been less than four hours since the cows milked, Pearl opens the gate to let her out.

Ed-Mar cheeses

The cows get milked on average three times a day. A great benefit of the automated system is that they are free to roam and get milked when they decide. When a cow gets milked, first brushes on the robot clean the underside of the cow, like a cow carwash. Then lasers guide the machine to attach to the udders. Pearl has a flow sensor, knowing when each udder has finished. Before the cow leaves, it is sprayed with disinfectant to help prevent infections.

“It [Pearl] measures quite a few things. It can measure the butterfat percent and it measures the somatic cell count,” for example Eddie says. He says that is important to watch because it affects milk quality and may mean the cow has an infection. The many data points it tracks are all part of quality control for the product and health of the cows.

The responder has a microphone embedded in it. “I can hear them talking bad about me,” says Eddie, with a straight face. After a big laugh, he shares it is to measure the number of minutes it chews on the cud, typically about 500 minutes a day. When it does not feel well, it stops chewing. Another way the high-tech tool is helping the farm to raise healthy cows.

Currently, Ed-Mar has 56 cows milking. Every day each cow produces about 10 gallons of milk, totaling over 600 gallons by the herd.

An Ed-Mar contented cow

Weather permitting, the cows can roam or go to a stall where they lay in inorganic sand, which prevents bacteria from growing. The stalls are big enough for the cows to lay down, but they cannot turn around, keeping their back end facing out. Their waste is flushed out with a system Eddie called in an engineer to design. Three times a day recycled water washes across the barn floor, cleaning it. Another high-tech solution keeping their cows healthy.

Fed twice a day, the cows eat on average about 100 pounds every day. The largest part of their diet, 70%, is corn silage which is the entire corn plant chopped into little pieces. Seventeen pounds of the cow’s diet is a mix of cornmeal, made from the ear, distilled grain, and soybean meal, for its high protein content.

Vitamins and minerals make up two pounds of the feed. Those need to be replenished after the cows have been milked to help them gain weight and stay healthy. Eddie works with a mineral supplement company to get a custom mix of what the cows need. A blend of 2/3 alfalfa and 1/3 hay round out the “cow casserole.”

In 2013 the Gibson’s began making cheese. The 14 varieties are handcrafted and Kentucky Proud, being raised, grown, or processed in Kentucky by Kentuckians. They have won 12 milk quality awards as Dairy Farmers of America Mideast Area members. Their cheeses can be found in many area restaurants, specialty markets, farmer’s markets, wineries, and butcher shops.

“It’s competitive and there’s a lot of big farms. Most 60 cow farms are almost gone. Most of the milk comes from farms numbered in the thousands,” Eddie says. The Gibson’s use high-tech and old-fashioned practices to care for their cows. Using pure, simple ingredients, no antibiotics, no artificial hormones are ever in the milk or cheese. Eddie oozes love for not his job, but his way of life. He cares about the cow’s health and the quality of the product he produces for everyone.

“Both Marcy’s and my own parents instilled in each of us that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right. Therefore, producing wholesome, high-quality milk is important to us,” Eddie says. “Dairy farming is our passion,” they say.

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