Farming Partner Feature: Brilman Dairy

James Brilman of Park Lake, AB is a modest, hard working family man, who owns Brilman Dairy with his wife, Deanna. He also happens to be one of our top producing Dairy Farming Partners. On top of it all, he’s a new entrant.

Growing up in southern Alberta on a grain farm, James worked for the neighboring farm he would eventually purchase, doing chores and milking. As a teenager, James took a full-time job at another neighboring dairy farm, furthering his knowledge, experience and passion for dairy farming.

At 27 years old, the Brilman’s purchased the neighboring dairy farm upon being awarded new entrant status in 2019. The process of becoming a new entrant included paperwork, a business plan, bank meetings, and an interview in Edmonton with the Alberta Milk Board.

Deanna and James share duties on the farm, all while holding several additional job titles. Deanna, when not taking care of their two daughters and one son (4, 2, and 4 months old), is also an RN, bookkeeper for the farm and James’ custom business, oversees the farms’ Pro-Action program, works in the barn throughout the year, and takes care of all the chores during field work. Meanwhile, when James is not occupied with running the dairy, fieldwork (from seeding to silaging to combining}, baling, feeding, manure hauling and more, he also runs a custom silage baling and wrapping outfit for neighboring farms in Alberta. While they take care of most tasks, they attribute a lot of their success to James’ father Frank in particular, who helped them with start-up, as well as ongoing fieldwork and irrigation jobs.  

Once settled into the barn with the help of Frank, the Brilman’s got to work sourcing equipment that suited their vision and dream. Exploring their options, James quickly determined he wanted to work with Penner Farm Services in Lacombe, AB to go the Lely route. Installing a Lely Discovery 90SW was the first step, replacing the existing manure management system. Wanting to remain milking in the double 8 herringbone parlour for a short time, they waited patiently for two refurbished Lely A4’s (roughly 5 years old at the time of purchase) to update their milking process. This lent itself to ensuring a flexible schedule for the Brilman’s young family, as well as focusing on cow health, allowing the freedom of choice for each cow.

Milk production saw an immediate increase, too, only adding to the already high-producing herd. Nearing the 45L per cow mark, the Brilman’s were filling their quota easily, plus bonus days. While they knew they wanted to go with Robotic Milking down the road, they didn’t anticipate they would be able to go this route so quickly. Purchasing used robots was an affordable way to automate the barn and reduce labour dependency.

Following the changeout on the manure handling and milking system, Brilman decided to update the ventilation, cow comfort, and calf feeding methods. There were no existing fans, only a curtain and open doors providing ventilation for the barn.  Installing the 72” Cyclone fans and Kraiburg KEW Plus II mats showed an immediate increase in cow comfort.

The calf feeding options were carefully evaluated before determining the Forster-Technik Calf Rail was the optimal system for their calves. The install was completed by James himself, a project that was finished in under a week. He has found the flexibility a very beneficial aspect for him, given most of the work is done by family and their full-time employee, . When they are occupied in the field, the calves are being fed on a regular schedule, allowing for uninterrupted fieldwork. James has also found the calves have a calmer demeanour, grow quicker and bigger, and end up having a more successful reproduction rate.

As for what the Brilman Family is planning as their next steps, they purchased Kraiburg Slat Mats for the entire barn, as they’re finding the cows could be just a bit more comfortable. Covering the slatted barn with the slatted rubber mats will also allow the cows to walk around safely, greatly reducing injuries and slippage. Obtaining more quota and filling the barn is also in the cards, but not just yet. There is also some damage to be repaired, caused by a severe hailstorm that rolled through his farm in July. Not only did they lose the curtains in the barn, but they also lost the entirety of their crops. Thankfully they were able to re-seed and see a somewhat successful crop grow over the last few months. ‘I think we were able to make enough feed for the next year, at least’ says Brilman. Farming optimism at its’ finest!