September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"After having them, I wouldn't milk cows any other way," Alan said about the robots.
Alan and his son, Andy, milk about 125 cows on their near Kenyon, Minn. The Meyers built a sand bedded freestall barn and installed two Lely robotic milking units on their farm in the fall of 2010.
"It's been working out well for us," Andy said. "It's a much better environment for the cows."
The biggest benefit the Meyers see from milking with robots has been the savings in labor costs and a more flexible schedule. The Meyers have not had to hire any employees and they've each been able to take nights off to spend time with family.
"One of us is always within one hour of the farm at all times, but if we wanted to do something in the evening we could. We wouldn't have to be here at 6 (p.m.) to milk. We could come back at 10 p.m. to check the cows and the robots, and everything is fine," Alan said.
Reports from the computer about the health and condition of the animals have also been a plus.
"We can catch sick cows so much more quickly," Andy said.
The reports give them information about things such as milk quality and production. Since installing the robots, the herd's production has gone up to 79 pounds per cow per day - an increase of about 10 pounds per cow per day compared to when milking in their previous facility.
Although the additional milk is a result of many factors, one that has helped is the number of times each cow is milked per day. Right now, the herd is averaging 3.1 milkings per cow per day; however, some of the higher producing cows are visiting the robot as many as five to six times within 24 hours.
The Meyers have also noticed a drop in the herd's somatic cell count (SCC), which went down from 550,000 and is currently at 120,000.
"We haven't had to cull any cows. The mastitis is just gone," Alan said. "The sand helps a lot and the robots help more because they are milked the same every time."
Mastitis and SCC were aspects the Meyers were struggling to control in their previous facility - a 40-cow wood-frame stanchion barn. The Meyers said the barn had small stalls and poor ventilation, which was not the ideal environment for the cows.
"We either had to quit or do something else (with our facilities)," Alan said.
As these thoughts were starting to enter the Meyers' minds, Andy visited a dairy farm with robots through a tour sponsored by his college, South Central College in Mankato.
"I was into it right away, but didn't think Dad would go for it," Andy said.
Together, the two visited another farm's open house to look at robots.
"He was on board right away," Andy said about his dad.
Alan's wife, Sharon, and Andy's fiancée (who at the time was still Andy's girlfriend), Samantha, were against the idea.
"I told them I would buy both of them lunch and take them to see a farm with robots. Once they saw how they worked, they said we had to get them," Alan said.
The Meyers saw benefits for the cows and the people, especially with Andy wanting to return as the fourth generation in the family to farm.
"It's impossible to find land to rent or buy in this area (for cash cropping). This (installing robots) is our way of getting more work and getting more income for the farm," Alan said
Robots were also better on the pocketbook. Although the Meyers said the robots are more expensive up front, the long-term payoff is better than other options.
"We played with numbers about 20 times for building a barn with a parlor and hired help versus building a new barn with robots. Every time, the robots won," Alan said.
There have been more challenging times with the new set-up. It took three weeks to get the initial group of cows fully trained to go through the robots. After that, the Meyers had smaller groups of new cows to train whenever they bought animals to fill the barn.
The parts to fix the robots have also been more expensive than what they were expecting. And a call from the robot sometimes means a learning curve to find out what's wrong and how to fix the problem; however, the Meyers said their dealer has been providing them with a robot consultant to help them learn the system. The Meyers also frequently participate in webinars to educate themselves further about the robots.
The Meyers tried to avert any problems before the robots were installed. For one week in the stanchion barn, the Meyers fed their cows the pellets they would eat in the robot to see if they would eat them.
"Feed is the No. 1 crucial thing for making the robots work," Andy said.
In addition to the milking facility, the Meyers made other changes due to the new set-up. They remodeled an existing heifer shed into a dry cow facility and are in the process of building a modified open front heifer shed.
They are also looking forward to the future, hoping to add a manure lagoon for up to one year's worth of storage and potentially adding another barn with 120 cows if the need arises. But for right now, they're enjoying their new flexible schedule and letting the cows milk themselves.
"This is hands down the best way to milk cows," Andy said.
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