Next generation at Fern Oak Farms relies on VAS technology to meet management challenges.


Tulare, CA

“I think millennials, my age and younger, are going to come into this industry and demand technology,” Greg Fernandes, manager of Fern Oak Farms, Tulare, CA, says. “When dairy farms pass on to the next generation, technology is going to take hold of everything. If you don’t accept that, you’re going to go away. Because you can’t afford to be inefficient in this industry.”

Fernandes and his family know a thing or two about working and evolving from generation to generation. He represents a wave of third-generation family members now working in the business, which has been featured in Successful Farming Magazine.

“My grandfather and his brother started dairying in the late ’50s, and it grew from there,” Fernandes said. “My dad and uncle are the principal owners now and I manage it.”

Although he grew up on the family farm, Greg didn’t inherit his position. His father wanted him to gain experience working elsewhere to get a taste of the outside world. He spent a few years in the banking industry, which made him realize he belonged back on the family farm.

Fern Oak Farms raises all their calves on the farm, so their software also has to support full life cycle management.

“As soon they offered a chance to be part of the business, it was a no brainer. They gave me the opportunity to train with my uncle for two years. Then they split the operation, and I took over managing one of the dairies. That’s where I’ve been for about two years. My passion and my love are here. I can’t be anywhere else.”

Greg has embraced the role of computer-based technology on the farm, and has seen first-hand how programs such as DairyComp 305 (matched with Pocket CowCard) and FeedWatch from VAS have helped his family manage the dairy side of their business. They’d been using both programs for years, and credit each program with allowing the farm to keep ahead on record keeping and compliance.

“We really need to pay attention to detail with all the regulations today,” says Fernandes. “The beautiful part of DairyComp is how it provides accurate data on withholding dates for cows on antibiotics and other meds. It really helps us conform to USDA regulations. For example, when I have test day and I get all my numbers in, I have a program where I can monitor every cow by milk production, repro codes, and where she’s at health-wise, among other things.

“If I had to do that with individual paper reports, it would take me weeks to go through all the cows. Now I can do it in three hours. DairyComp gives us a snapshot every month to compare to the same time last year. And I can tailor it to the things I want to see. I can sort cows. I can find cows. I’ve been pretty accustomed to looking at everything through the scope of DairyComp. It’s a very powerful program, but also very user friendly. Once you use it for a while, it gets easier and easier to operate. It makes my job a lot easier in every aspect I can think of.”

A Better View of the Lifecycle

“I have them here all the time, so the beauty of that is I can keep track of every heifer from early on,” Fernandes explains. “For example, if a heifer gets pneumonia and she survives, I can record that treatment. We can compare her to her herd mates and the see any problems caused by early infection. When you bring calves in from the outside you have no idea what happened at the calf ranch and, therefore, none of her history.”

Fernandes has been performing genomic testing for about a year-and-a-half now, and the record keeping capabilities of the VAS technologies have been a big part of what has made that effort successful.

“I can track events now and I can run records: how many cows had pneumonia, how many were treated for scours, how many were treated for whatever I want to look at,” says Fernandes. “And that’s what’s nice. Now that genomic testing is being pulled around six to eight months of age, it’s been awesome to see fresh cows that I get data back from, and I can manage that data and streamline how I want to breed my cows.”

Fern Oak Farms also uses PenBot, an automated device that scans each cow’s electronic identification tag as it enters the milking parlor.

“Every day I have a constant and accurate inventory of animals and what pens they’re in,” says Fernandes. “Even if a cow gets moved I don’t have to come back and put the cows into the computer. When they go through the milking parlor again, they go around the carousel, it automatically tells us, ‘Hey, this cow is not in the pen that she was in on DairyComp, and then moves her to her new existing pen, which come preg-check day, every cow on the list is in the pen that they should be in. Even if they were misplaced the night before, that program finds them. And every time they go through the barn, it puts them in the right spot. You never have anything out of whack. And that is the most beautiful part of PenBot in my opinion.”

Fernandes also recently upgraded to the newest version of FeedWatch, a VAS product dedicated to streamlining and making feeding operations more efficient on the dairy.

“We figure out the rations and costs, then match it to the cow numbers. I figure out my cost per head per day, my breakeven costs, and how efficient I was in dry matter intake compared to milk production,” says Fernandes. “The newest version of FeedWatch is just so much faster. It makes it easier to change pens around, change rations, change how I want it delivered. Reports are easier to understand too. So, that’s definitely a big plus from the old version. I get accurate weights and intakes where I want them to be consistently. That makes my life easier, too.”