September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Technology has allowed us to manage our farm and know what is going on whereever we are," said Bradley Biehl, owner of Corner View Farm near Kutztown, Pa.
Biehl joined fellow dairy farmers, Erica Kiestra of St. Mary's, Ontario, Tom Oesch of Alto, Mich., Jake Pessig of Dorchester, Wis., and Harry VanWieren of Thedford, Ontario, during the Robotic Milking Producer Panel at the Precision Dairy Conference on June 26 in Rochester, Minn.
Biehl milks 120 cows with an Astrea 20.20, two stall robotic milking system with a dual acting arm. He also has six IP webcams, sprinklers, curtains, lighting and fans with iPhone access and control.
Even with all of the new technology, it was not an easy start.
"The first year was very challenging," Biehl said. "But it's a quality of life to get into."
Fellow panel member Erica Kiestra milks 90 cows with a new MIone 2-box automatic milking system with a milk-first pre-selection system. This system brings cows through a sorting gate, and those that can be milked move to the robot and then the feeding area.
"Labor efficiency made robots a logical choice for us," Kiestra said. "The milk-first pre-selection system was the obvious choice for labor efficiency."
When looking at core values, panel member, Tom Oesch, felt robots were a perfect match.
"We wanted to focus on the cow, be light years ahead, to make hay while the sun shines and be productive," Oesch said. "Everything we did, we did for the cows."
Currently Oesch's Swiss Lane Farms is milking 500 cows with eight Lely Astronaut Milking Robots.
Labor was a key reason for panel member, Jake Pessig, to install his robots but he also realized the value of the precision technology.
"Technology is just the tip of the iceberg," Pessig said. "I am not afraid to tackle it."
Pessig is milking his nearly 250 cows with four DeLaval Voluntary Milking Systems.
Since the cows have used the robots, Pessig has seen a change in their behavior.
"Cows are eager to get in the robot," Pessig said. "It is miraculous how they want to milk. It is a major selling point for me."
Producers attending the panel discussion wanted to know more about the types of cattle that do not work in the robots.
For Oesch and Pessig, the size of the cows seemed to be the biggest challenge.
"A Holstein weighing 2,200 to 2,300 pounds is tough," Pessig said. "It's a squeeze. The larger cows are tougher to work with."
Teat placement is more of a concern for Biehl.
"I have had to cull some with back teats that cross," Biehl said.
When questioned about how starting up with robots went, Pessig shared his experience.
"It took a lot of people three or four days to get going," Pessig said. "The key is to not get worked up; the cows will catch on."
The milk-first pre-selection system was of interest to several producers listening to the panel. The main question about those systems was if it was a guided or free traffic system.
"It's a pull system," Kiestra said.
Although Oesch doesn't have a milk-first pre-selection system, he feels no matter what system you have there will always be some guiding traffic.
"Fetching cows is not a chore," Oesch said. "No matter what, you will be fetching cows."
Overall, Oesch encouraged farmers to remember one thing if they are thinking about installing a robot on their farm.
"Dairymen have to buy into whatever system they choose to put in," Oesch said.[[In-content Ad]]
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