Cows feeding in freestall barns
WHERE COWS MOVE, MILK FLOWS: Keefer found that improving cow comfort in his freestall barns translated into improved milk production — now topping 28,000 pounds annual production per cow.

Robert Keefer: The consummate farming planner

Sixth in our series on the motivation and business strategies driving the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers.

Bob Keefer is a third-generation Shippensburg, Pa., farmer who perceived farming’s economic realities even as a sixth-grader. When his father had to get an off-farm job, he started milking cows before and after school.

He started farming in 1969 as a ninth-grader. He rented a barn for 40 sows and sold feeder pigs — and milked his dad’s cows until he graduated from high school in 1972. In his senior year, he purchased a small dairy herd.

Along the way, he and wife Barbara married, and began taking their business to the next level — he, the president and manager of Hard Earned Acres; and she, its bookkeeper and treasurer. By 1977, the couple purchased the family farm and were milking 50 cows and raising 400 market hogs.

By1985, the Keefers had bought two more tracts of land and were milking 150 cows. Since then, herd growth has been solely via internal growth — raising their own heifers. “Our heifers are our equity,” he notes.

MASTER OF MILKING: Bob Keefer loves farming and his community. His super-clean dairy shows it.

In 2000, a new dairy complex brought further expansion with a double-16 parallel milking parlor and freestall barn. The former parlor is still used for fresh and treated cows.

In 2012, the Keefers put in a $1.8 million anaerobic biodigester to convert manure plus food wastes to methane and ultimately electricity, mostly paid for by USDA grants. “Barb, my backbone, did all the paperwork to get the grants,” notes Keefer.

The digester provides all electricity for the farm and their home — and more. Hot water from the digester motor also heats both milking parlors and their house. Before they put in the digester, the farm’s electricity bill ranged from $7,000 to $10,000 a month.

A manure solids-separator recycles bedding for 900 freestalls. 2016 brought another freestall barn to boost cow comfort.

Total management mindset
Today, Hard Earned Acres has a 600-cow milking herd and farms 1,125 acres of owned and leased land. With the latest cow management technologies and consultant advice, annual herd milk production is 28,129 pounds per cow, with 1,116 pounds fat and 850 pounds protein, reports Barb.

Some 600 acres of minimum-till corn, 200 acres of alfalfa and 100 acres of grass hay are the leading crops on this farm, followed by barley double-cropped to soybeans. Everything — even straw — goes into the feed mix.

Corn is on a three-year rotation, rotated with barley, alfalfa and soybeans. Silage corn and soybeans are planted in 15-inch rows.

Inventory management is critical, he stresses, referring to the farm’s feedstuffs. That’s why a new, large concrete bunker silo was put up this summer to ensure even larger feed reserves.

“We have backups for everything on the farm,” emphasizes Keefer. That’s his business model, and his smartphone helps this fast-moving farmer stay atop of it all.


What drives Bob Keefer

Location: Shippensburg, Cumberland County, Pa.

Family: Keefer and wife Barb have two grown children: Brian and Jaime Halbleib.

Education: A high school diploma plus much on-the-job education and experience.

Leadership roles: Keefer is a trustee of the church he and Barb attend. He has been president of the FFA chapter, Franklin County Vo-Tech and the Shippensburg School Board, which earned him Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s outstanding service award. A few years ago, he even traded jobs with the local fire chief for a day, and shared what was learned at a Farm-City Banquet.

Notable: A backup for everything has served him and the community well.

TAGS: Farm Life
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