September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Adaway Dairy installs robotic milkers
Father and son, Scott and Nathan Adams, have 125 cows being milked with their robotic units, and about another 125 still being milked in their old milking setup on their farm near Waucoma, Iowa.
The Adamses were milking about 150 cows in a 36-stanchion barn with 18 units at the time they decided to expand and update. Nathan said he thought they "had it made" when they switched to automatic take offs about 10 years ago. Although he is in his late 20s, he still recalls his grandpa carrying milk in buckets years ago. Now, they are milking half of their herd with two DeLaval robotic milkers.
Scott said the only thing he wishes they could have done differently is installing all five robotic units they wanted instead of starting with two and planning for future expansion. Due to financing, they decided to do the project in stages.
This first stage consisted of a 144-foot addition to their 128-foot long freestall barn. The addition included more freestalls, the robot room, which currently holds two units but is designed to hold five, an office and a supply area.
Scott grew up down the road from their current farm. After high school graduation, he attended college for one year, came home and farmed for two years, attended ISU the next year, and then moved back to the farm in 1978. He has been there ever since. Nathan joined him in 2003 after attending the dairy science program at Northeast Iowa Community College for two years.
Approximately four years ago, Scott and Nathan, along with their spouses, Jeanie and Annie, formed Adaway Dairy LLC.
Their old milking set up was getting to the point where it needed updates, and they knew they would have to invest money into getting things up to date. They considered a parlor, but when they started financial calculations, they realized robots were a good fit for them.
"And there is no way a parlor can generate the information that robots can," Nathan said.
"There are some really great programs that let you plug in your financial numbers to see if robots are feasible," Scott said. "Once we factored in labor the robots won hands down."
"And so far they haven't asked for a weekend off," he added
The Adamses went with the system they did because they thought it had the best udder prep system. Instead of using brushes, the 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. The first time a cow enters the robot the farmer can choose to program the teat placements into the system - either manually attach from the operator side of the unit or let the unit self-teach the teat placement.
After that, every time the cow enters the robotic unit the system identifies her through the ID system, and then uses a 3-D camera and dual lasers to line up the hydrolic-powered robotic arm with the teats. The camera lens is cleaned between each cow.
The milk is held in a receiving jar while each cow is milked. If the computer system detects an abnormality, such as blood in the milk due to an injury, the milk will automatically be separated instead of going to the bulk tank.
The system also has four optical, quarter milk meters that monitor deviations and abnormalities in flow rates, yields, conductivity and blood levels.
All teat cups are rinsed inside and out between each cow. The cups then face down so they can drain and stay free of debris that could otherwise fall inside. The system also uses a programmable automatic deck flush to lessen the need for the dairy producer to clean up around the unit as often.
Each robotic 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.
Nathan said he spends about 30 minutes a day on the computer reviewing select information and seeing if any cows need to be brought up to be milked. On their own, the cows are averaging 2.8 milkings per day. Production for the robot herd is up and somatic cell count is down.
They started using the robots on Dec. 7, and they said things were running smoothly by Christmas.
"It was a lot easier than we thought it would be. It was much more stressful before when we were milking all the cows in the old barn after we had increased herd numbers," Scott said.
They were able to have the cows go through the robots to get feed pellets before they started milking in them, which helped the cows through the transition.
"I am sure that helped tremendously," Scott said. "We didn't have to push any of them through, they just went."
The Adamses are using 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 robots to be milked or on to the feed bunk. They are able to feed less pellets with this flow system, which will pay for the gates within about two years.
They are also able to sort post-milking. On a recent Sunday night, Nathan programmed the system for which cows needed health checks. When they came out the next morning every cow they wanted was sorted into a pen.
They said their cows being milked by robots are very calm and harder to startle.
The herd also uses an activity monitoring system. Nathan said they started using the system in late November, and the impact on their pregnancy rate has been very positive.
"We could see an improvement the very first time we did a preg check," he said
They are no longer using Lutalyse for assistance in breeding, other than problem cows.
Adaway Dairy has one non-family member who works on the farm: Nick Konen.
Scott and his wife, Jeanie, have five children. Nathan is the oldest; Nicole is married to Kyle Collins and lives in Arizona; Jackie is in her last semester in accounting at ISU, working toward her CPA; Katie is a junior studying dairy at ISU; and Joe is a high school senior enrolled in ISU for the fall.
Nathan and Annie, who is an art teacher, have a 1-year-old son, Kole.
Jeanie also works on the farm and does custom baking.[[In-content Ad]]
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