September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Prior to starting up the first two robotic milkers, father and son Scott and Nathan Adams were milking about 150 cows in a 36 stanchion barn with 18 units. They worked on increasing their cow numbers in the process of switching to robotics.
Half of their herd was switched from a tiestall barn to a DeLaval robotic milking system on Dec. 7, 2011, and almost all the other cows were switched Dec. 20, 2012.
They keep the stanchion barn up and running for the slowest milkers and cows that need extra attention, such as those with health issues. Scott Adams says this works better to keep the flow of cows moving along because the slow milkers aren't tying things up.
Someday when their cow numbers reach the point that they will have to switch cows out of the stanchion, they hope to install a fifth robot.
When they first started the robotic project they had hoped to install five units, but other financial priorities needed to be taken care of first.
"It was obvious as soon as we started with the robotics that we had to get the next two robots going," said Adams.
During the time between installing second set of robots half the herd was milked in the stanchion barn and half were milked by the robots, Adams crunched the numbers. The robotic herd gave over 10 percent more milk, and the SCC was less than 150,000. Reproduction rates began improving as soon as they started using the activity monitoring system prior to starting up the robots voluntary milking system(VMS), and the herd milked with robotics was also calmer. The cows milk themselves an average of 2.9 times a day.
Nick said the cows that started with the robotics in 2011 are currently giving about 82 pounds a day. The pen of cows that recently started is averaging 72 pounds a day, which is better than the first two did two months after start up.
Adams said the second start up was a lot of work, but they knew what to expect this time. United Suckow Dairy worked hard to get the new robotics operating by Dec. 20 because the family wanted to take advantage of having Katie and Joey home for the holiday college break.
Adams pointed out the "fetch list" on the white-board wall in the milking area; two and a half months after the start up of the additional units and there were no cows on the list.
After the first few labor intensive days, the cows settled into their new routines quite quickly.
When they were milking all the cows in the old barn, each milking required three people and about three hours. Now one person can milk the handful of cows in the old barn, and the VMS system handles the rest. Adams says they find plenty of other work to do, but they do also enjoy more leisure time.
The freestall barn can hold up to 300, and they are working toward that herd size. They have Holsteins, Jerseys and even a Brown Swiss. The VMS units handle the different sized animals with no problems.
They use a modified guided flow system to control cow traffic in their remodeled barn. The cows go through a "smart selection" gate which determines if she should go to the robot to be milked or on to the feed bunk. They are also able to sort post-milking.
They started out feeding a commercially prepared pellet to the cows when they enter the milking unit, but they switched to a gluten pellet that is just as effective and more cost efficient.
When asked what advice he would give to someone considering a robotic milking system, Adams said they should be sure to "do their homework." He noted although different robotic systems may seem the same, there are important differences that need to be considered so a dairy producer can make the right choice for their farm.
Adams went with DeLaval VMS robotics because they thought they had the best udder prep system. Instead of using brushes, the DeLaval VMS system uses a warm water cleaning solution, circulates compressed air to dry teats and then vacuum pre-strips. The teat preparation cup has its own separate line so all the cleaning solution and pre-striped milk is flushed away.
He says he also really likes the fact that the teat cups can be put on the cow manually and safely from the operator side. The software will then remember the teat placement for future milkings. "If you get a fidgety heifer you can attach the teat cups manually and get her calmed down," he said.
They have also taken advantage of the massive amount of information they receive from the activity monitoring system, robotic units and the software. "We can decide what information is the most valuable and have it come to us all at once," he said.
The VMS has an individual meter per teat, so information is precise per quarter whether it is milk yield, flow rate, length of time or health issues.
Nate handles most of the computer work, and is usually the one to respond to an alert from the system that something needs attention.
Each VMS unit can handle 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of milk a day, so the number of cows milked per unit depends on the farm.
When people mention the expenses of robotic system, Adams asks them, how much they would need to be paid to milk cows two or three times a day, every day of the year, with no vacations. "When you look at it that way it is not as expensive as you would think," Adams said.
Nathan joined his dad in 2003 after attending the Dairy Science program at NICC for two years.
Approximately five years ago, Scott and Nathan, along with their spouses Jeanie and Annie, formed Adaway Dairy LLC.
Adaway Dairy has one non-family member who works on the farm, Nick Konen.
Scott and his wife Jeanie have five children. Nathan, Nicole who is married to Kyle Collins and lives in Arizona, Jackie works at an accounting firm in Cedar Rapids, Katie will be graduating from ISU in May with a degree in Dairy Science and plans to return to the home farm, and Joe is a freshman at ISU majoring in dairy science. Jeanie also works on the farm and does custom baking.[[In-content Ad]]