September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

From stanchions to robots

Kriener brother welcome robots to their farm
The Kriener brothers, from left, Jeremy, Arlen and Peter, started milking with robotic milkers in February. They switched from milking 135 cows in a 44-stanchion barn with six automatic take-offs to milking 238 cows with four robotic milkers. The Krieners dairy farm near Fort Atkinson, Iowa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KELLI BOYLEN
The Kriener brothers, from left, Jeremy, Arlen and Peter, started milking with robotic milkers in February. They switched from milking 135 cows in a 44-stanchion barn with six automatic take-offs to milking 238 cows with four robotic milkers. The Krieners dairy farm near Fort Atkinson, Iowa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KELLI BOYLEN

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

FORT ATKINSON, Iowa - In the past year, the Kriener brothers have gone from milking in a 44-stanchion barn to letting four robots do the milking for them.
Arlen, Jeremy and Peter Kriener of Fort Atkinson, Iowa say the robotics have allowed them to have a better lifestyle and more time with their families.
The brothers took over the farm operation from their father about 13 years ago. Their father, Peter Sr., was born in 1936 and cows were already being milked at the farm then.
The Krieners were milking 135 cows in a 44-stanchion barn with six automatic take-off units. Once they knew they would be building the new facility, they started increasing their cow numbers from within and by purchasing cattle. At the time they were ready to move into the new facility, they were milking 180 cows in the old barn and had added two additional milkers. It took two people up to three and a half hours per milking.
In August of 2011, they broke ground on the new 180-by 165-foot freestall barn. The new barn features four DeLaval robotic milking units, cross-ventilation and 18 inches of blown-in insulation in the ceiling. The barn has slat flooring with a 12-foot manure pit underneath which holds 2.9 million gallons, enough for about 390 days of storage.
There are also automatic foot baths and a 6,500 gallon bulk tank.
They switched to the robotic milkers on February 29. They joked that the biggest challenge of start up was sleep.
"The guys from DeLaval were great. They stayed until we told them to go and we were okay without them," Jeremy said about training the cows to use the robots.
Peter added that once they got through the initial set up the biggest challenge was sitting back and realizing they weren't milking anymore.
They now have 238 cows milking themselves in the four robotic units. When deciding how many robots to put in, the Krieners calculated how many cows they thought would be needed to support their three families and made plans based on that. Optimally, they will have up to 270 cows in the milking herd.
The Krieners report the cows are extremely calm in their new setting; even the fresh cows are not as jumpy.
Jeremy said they went with robotics instead of a parlor to save on labor costs, and the issues that go with having employees.
"It only takes a few years to have the robots paid for, and they don't call in sick - a hiccup now and then maybe, but that's about it," Jeremy said.
The Krieners' cows really seem to enjoy the two cow brushes that were installed, and often will keep using one until another cow pushes them out of the way.
They chose a cross-ventilation barn because of the higher air quality and higher cow comfort. The barn has airflow of about eight miles an hour and there were no flies over the summer. Even on the hottest days of summer the temperature in the barn never went above 82 degrees. The outside curtains, baffled curtains inside and the fans are all set on a thermostat.
At night the lights in the barn switch to a red LED light which allows the cows to sleep and the humans to see.
In addition to their lifestyle improvements, the brothers report the herd's pregnancy rate has gone up (all three brothers continue to do AI as they have for many years), their cull rate is down, and their somatic cell count has gone from about 500,000 to averaging between 200,000 and 220,000.
Milk production is up. Their numbers went down initially when they moved, but now as cows are freshening, production continues to go up.  
The cows are averaging about 2.8 milkings per day.
They are feeding a corn gluten pellet to the cows when they enter the robotic unit. At first, they were using a different type of pellet, but report these are less expensive and the cows seem to like them more.
The brothers said they are no longer headlight farmers; they are able to stop field work when they want to rather than going all night because now they know there will be time the following day.
When asked if there is anything they miss about milking, all three brothers are quick to respond with a unanimous no.
Previously, the cows had loose housing on a bedded pack and were on pasture when possible. Monitoring herd health is easier now with the computer system creating alerts from the activity monitoring system on the cows.
They are now using the old stanchion barn for their calves, and the pastures are used by dry cows and heifers.
The DeLaval Voluntary Milking System (VMS) robotics use a warm water cleaning solution, circulate compressed air to dry teats and then a vacuum pre-strips. The cleaning solution and the pre-stripped milk are flushed away by a separate line on the teat preparation cup. 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.
After a cow's initial visit to the robotics when the system learns her teat placement, every time the cow enters the robotic unit she is identified through the ID system, and then a 3-D camera and dual lasers line up the robotic arm with the teats. The camera lens is cleaned between each cow.
The DeLaval VMS system also has four optical, quarter milk meters that monitor deviations and abnormalities for such things as flow rates, yields and conductivity. It uses a hydraulic powered robotic arm which reduces service requirements and electrical consumption when compared to pneumatic systems.
As part of the new setup, there are also smart selection gates which sort the cows before and after milking. The Krieners' barn is set up for milk first cow traffic. When a cow gets up from her stall she goes through the gate. If is it time for her to be milked she goes into the milking area, otherwise she is directed to the feed area. This saves labor by not having to fetch as many animals and also allows cows to be milked in a more routine fashion.
After milking the cow passes through the gate again. The dairy producer can program for certain cows to be sorted out for herd management needs, such as breeding, vet checks, etc.
The Krieners farm about 920 acres, growing corn, alfalfa and occasionally soybeans. Arlen, Jeremy and Peter all work together on the farm, with no specific division of labor. All three handle the computer system as well.
The brothers said, looking back, the only thing they would have done differently is to make one of the feed alleys wider.
"I wish we had done it sooner," Jeremy said.
The Krieners will be hosting an open house on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Arlen, Jeremy and Peter will all be on hand to answer questions, along with representatives from DeLaval and other companies they worked with.
The Krieners are currently operating the largest dairy with DeLaval robotics in the state of Iowa.[[In-content Ad]]

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