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‘Cow hotel’ aims to change consumer perspective of ag

BARODA, MI -- Just a short drive from downtown Chicago and nestled between Lake Michigan and the vineyards that consume the southwest corner of the water wonderland state is a five-star hotel for cows that is Shuler Farms in Baroda, MI.

Bill and Carolyn Shuler and their two sons Billy and Wyatt, and Bill’s mother, Shirley, began to make plans for their farm renovation in January 2015 when Bill’s father, Ward, became ill. “We wanted to show my father the plans because we knew he wasn’t going to survive to see the resulting product,” explained Bill.

The change from a tie-stall barn to robotics was a decision the family came to when they realized they either needed to “do something or quit,” explained Bill. “My sons were interested in staying on the dairy and so we wanted to minimize our labor as much as possible.”

A heifer barn and a robotic dairy with the capacity to milk 120 cows was the end result and “it’s a whole change of lifestyle and it’s taking a lot to get used to,” Bill commented. “For the longest time after we started using the robots the boys and I had this uncontrollable urge at three O’Clock to go out to the old barn and start doing chores.” He continued, “There is still a lot of work on the farm, but it makes everything so much more flexible with robotic milkers.”

Not only has the intense labor on the farm decreased, Bill says the cows are cleaner, the barns are cooler and they haven’t had a case of mastitis since they moved into the new barn.

Wyatt commented about the cow comfort, “The cows are healthier, happier and seem more calm.   They get milked when they want to be milked and we have seen increased pregnancy rates.”

The Shuler farm has a storied history of cheese making back before the Shuler Family moved in. Making cheese and ice cream are two products the Shulers are contemplating as they move forward.  In 1848 when the farm was first established by Barney Idson, there was a cheese room on the back of the original farm house where they produced cheese and sold it in town.

Today the Shulers have plans to take advantage of the agri-tourism that is exploding in the area with wineries and new breweries that have started up. Bill commented, “If we could be a part of the Michigan Winery Trail bus that goes by every day and have a product to sell, that would make it all work together. This area in the summer is just alive with Chicago people.”

Bill also hopes to influence how dairy farmers are perceived by the public, “If I can show people how well we treat our cows here, I think people will come away with a positive perspective. Cows come first here.”

Bill concluded, “My sons will be the fifth generation to live here and support the farm and I guess my father gave me the opportunity to go to Michigan State and milk cows and I feel I owe my sons that same opportunity not only for them but for the future generations as well.”