The Weyer family – (front, from left) Josy, Noah and Liam; (back, from left) Krissy and Brian – stand near their robot Jan. 8. The Weyers milk 75 cows in Stearns County near Albany, Minnesota. 
The Weyer family – (front, from left) Josy, Noah and Liam; (back, from left) Krissy and Brian – stand near their robot Jan. 8. The Weyers milk 75 cows in Stearns County near Albany, Minnesota. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

ALBANY, Minn. – Brian and Krissy Weyer had plans to upgrade their milking facility, and with the assistance of a state grant program, the project became more financially appealing. 
“Either way, we were going to go through with the project, but this made life a lot easier,” Brian Weyer said. 

Weyer and his family are one of the 2020 recipients of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program’s Livestock Investment Grant. With the funding, they put a single milking robot in their existing freestall barn. 
Now, the Weyers milk about 75 cows with a DeLaval VMS 300 on their farm in Stearns County near Albany.
“We applied for the grant in 2019 for a 2020 project,” Weyer said. “I was really happy that we got it.” 
The Weyers were one of 25 dairy producers who received state funding in 2020; in total, the grant helped fund $772,000 worth of projects across the livestock sector. This past year, 18 dairy producers and their projects were a part of $756,000 in grant funds. 
In fiscal year 2022, MDA anticipates awarding up to $1.3 million, some of which has been claimed in the fall round of the Livestock Investment Grant. In February, the state will reopen applications for the funds remaining. 
“The grant allows producers to stay competitive in the industry and offset the costs of improvements,” said Courtney VanderMey, livestock investment administrator for the Ag Marketing and Development Division of MDA. “The application process is competitive, but the funding is attainable.”
The Weyers were working with the state when they first heard of the Livestock Investment Grant. 
After applying, the Weyers were awarded $25,000 which would be given as a reimbursement once the project was complete. 
At the beginning of 2020, Weyer and his family built a 12- by 16-foot addition on the freestall barn as a robot room. The parlor then became a holding pen and office area. 
“So far it’s working really well and a lot easier,” Weyer said. “Dad was getting tired of milking every day, and this allowed us not to have to find someone to hire.”
Previously, the Weyers were milking in a parlor they built in 2009.  
The project was completed in March 2020, and by August of that year, the Weyers received their funding from the grant program. 
“The robot project was just about as expensive as the building project in 2009,” Weyer said. “I hope it lasts the rest of my career; that’s the goal.”
This state program, which was developed in 2008, covers a multitude of projects for livestock farmers. Dairy farmers have used the funds to update housing facilities, milking equipment, manure or feed storage and management equipment, among others, VanderMey said. 
“This grant is applicable to farmers looking to improve their operation by increasing profitability and sustainability for themselves and future generations,” she said. 
When Scott Herber applied for the grant, he did so with intention of Shadycrest Holsteins withstanding many more years in the industry. 
“We’ve applied for the grant in the past but didn’t receive it,” Herber said. “But with the projects that needed to be done, and my son’s interest in coming back, we could get it this time. We built this barn for profitability and safety, and setting this up for the next generation.”
Herber received grant funding for a project he completed October 2020 on his family’s 650-cow dairy in Winona County near Altura. 
During a heavy snowstorm in February 2019, a section of the roof on one of the Herbers’ freestall barns collapsed. They rebuilt and improved the flooring with new grooving and also converted the barn from a naturally-ventilated building to tunnel ventilation. 
The following year, the Herbers decided to update the remaining sections of the 250-cow barn with funding from the state’s grant program. 
“We planed and regrooved the alleyways,” Herber said. “We also updated the rafters of the barn, increased the snow load and lowered the ceiling to get more airflow through the barn with less fans.”
The ceiling was lowered to about 14-feet at its center with a different style of rafters than previously used, and a cloth material was used to seal it. 
The grooved flooring and more airflow created better cow comfort and safety, and ultimately, more profitability for the Herbers. 
“It worked out better than we could’ve imagined,” Herber said. “The completed barn is kind of impressive.”
Almost two years after the barn collapse, and working through construction, the Herbers are finally seeing their herd’s performance bounce back and are hopeful for the future. 
“There are a lot of different things I could have done, but I updated what needed to be done,” Herber said. “I built this for now, and I built this for the future so my son has some years of use out of it too.”