After two back surgeries before his 44th birthday, Craig Finke knew it was time for a change.
Because he also farms 1,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, he knew he had to dramatically reduce grunt labor on his 120-cow dairy, hire more employees or, worst case, exit the dairy business.
He chose mechanization and robotics, and now, a year and a half later, operates arguably the most automated dairy operation in the country. Finke spoke at the 2015 Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, Minn. June 25.
Finke’s facility became operational Nov. 17, 2013. Automation includes:
• A new, five-row, sand-bedded freestall barn that is automatically water-flushed six times per day. (The manure slurry goes through a sand-separation lane and a two-stage lagoon to separate solids. The system eliminates daily manure haul.)
• Thermostat, sensor-controlled sidewall curtains.
• Orion 6 lamp sealed lighting in the barn which operates off of a laptop program, or iPhone.
• Two AMS Galaxy robotic milker stalls.
• A Trioliet robotic TMR mixer/feeder that delivers feed seven times per day, and will also push up feed to ensure cows always have access.
• Two grooming brushes.
• More than a dozen web cameras to monitor the barn and cows.
• iPhone access and control, and text messaging cow alerts.
The mechanization has allowed him to reduce labor by one full-time employee, saving $30,000 per year. And more frequent feeding and milking by the robots mean production per cow jumped from 65 lb/cow/day to 85 to 90 lb. That production means he is harvesting 5,500 lb. per robot per day.
The only labor now required for feeding is to ensure feed bins are kept full for the Trioliet TMR mixer. Breeding is done by an A.I. technician, who breeds cows off an alert list from activity monitors.
“On good days, I’ll come down to the barn and have 20 to 25 minutes of labor,” he says.
The big question, of course, is capital cost. Finke is reluctant to talk about total costs, but says he has about $7,000 per cow invested in technology in the barn. That cost does not include the building or outside manure storage.
Note: Lenders at the Precision Dairy Conference later told Dairy Today fully automated, robotic barns are now being bid at $11,000 to $14,000 per cow.
You can read more about Finke’s facility here and here.