Participating in the discussions at World Dairy Expo were two dairy producers who are milking with robots.
Lance and Jonna Schutte installed two robotic milkers on their 140 cow dairy in 2013. A new freestall barn on their Monona, Iowa farm replaced the former tie-stall barn they milked Holstein and Brown Swiss cows in.
Third generation dairy farmer Doug Gernes went from a double-12 parlor to four robotic milkers in 2016 to milk his 240 cows. The herd has increased 11 lb. in milk to an average of 90 lb. after the first year in the new system at his Winona, Minn. dairy.
How did you decide on the robotic system?
I would highly suggest to go with the dealer you trust locally. Personally I liked DeLaval better because you have the option to milk cows manually. If there is a breakdown you don’t necessarily have to shut down milking completely. Regardless of the brand or manufacture go with the dealer you trust.
We liked the way the Lely robots worked with the free flow system. We wanted to have the cows in one pen together to move around.
How receptive were your lenders?
Our lender was amazing. He has been behind us 100%. He knew how hard labor is to find. We showed him what we could do with it. We’ve had some other institutions come to us asking questions for their perspective clients.
Our guy was the same, he was 100% behind it. He grew up on a farm and he could see the benefit.
How has it helped with quality of life?
My husband, Lance, had went to play softball because he had some free time, then he tore a ligament in his foot and got a blood clots. I was nurse, wife, mom and I took care of the majority of things on the farm, so it can be done by just about anyone. We’re not having to scramble for help when one person can do it in an emergency.
Just the flexibility…if I have to do something like field work or maybe go to dinner early. Not having to rely on help is a big thing. We had 2/3 of our crew that was reliable. That other 1/3 was constantly cycling. You’d get surprised when they would show up for a shift. Now I don’t have to worry and if I have to be somewhere I can get stuff done.
Something you wish you’d been told beforehand?
It is like any new setup that you have to work through those quirks. You’re dealing with a whole new system. There were frustrating days. When Lance went from working with those cows every single day. Now, you’re not touching them anymore. How do I find mastitis? I don’t just physically find it anymore, I have to look different ways. It is like going from a notebook to a computer, it is a whole new way of doing things. Once you get the bugs worked out it is great.
It is a different management style. You have to be two steps ahead. Compared to a parlor where you go with the flow, with a robot you always have to think ahead if you want to be productive. The biggest thing for us is we were at 290 cows and we installed four robots. We’re at 240 head now, which is mass capacity for free flow. We were told 60-65 cows in the robots, so we started with 62 cows at the beginning which is not what you want to do. You want to start at 50 cows per robot until things get going.