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

Robots for the future

Posts build robotic milking facility to ease labor, make room for the next generation
Daryl Rylaarsdam, left, has been herdsman for Bill and Merri Post for the past 14 years. Rylaarsdam enjoys the Posts’ new robotic milking facility, which has greatly eased the physical burden of operating the dairy.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
Daryl Rylaarsdam, left, has been herdsman for Bill and Merri Post for the past 14 years. Rylaarsdam enjoys the Posts’ new robotic milking facility, which has greatly eased the physical burden of operating the dairy.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON

By by Jerry Nelson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CHANDLER, Minn. - It cannot be said that Bill and Merri Post rushed into their decision to build a robotic milking facility.
"We toured our first robotic milking barn in 2005," said Merri. "We had to go to Canada because there weren't any robotic milkers in the United States at that time."
The roots of the Posts' operation - aptly named Middleroad Acres due to the township road that splits the farmstead - can be traced back eight decades.
"My grandfather purchased this place in the 1930s," said Bill. "My parents, Frank and Arlene, eventually took over from Grandpa, and we took over from my parents in 1996. Dad, who is 80, continues to help out on the farm whenever possible."
Bill and Merri have two children, Jake (16) and Sarah (18). Sarah, who recently graduated from high school, has enrolled at South Dakota State University where she will double major in dairy production and dairy manufacturing.
Red and Whites have been an integral part of the Post operation since 1957. More than two-thirds of their herd are Red and Whites, and all of their black and white animals are red carriers.
Until last December, the Posts milked in a 64-cow lever stanchion barn that Frank built in 1974.
"The stanchions aren't as comfortable for the cows as we would like," said Bill. "And we didn't have enough room for all the cows, so we had to keep some of them outside in a dry lot."
But lack of cow comfort wasn't the only problem.
"I could see that milking in stanchions was taking a physical toll on Bill," said Merri. "He was taking three ibuprofen every day just to function. You could tell that his hips and knees and back were bothering him. He was beginning to walk with a stoop."
Before building their new dairy barn, Bill and Merri educated themselves by touring a number of facilities and gathering insights from other dairy farmers. Merri's experiences in her off-farm job also proved beneficial.
"For over ten years I have been a coordinator for the Southwest Minnesota Dairy Profit Group," she said. "I've visited a lot of dairy farms and have seen many good ideas, along with some pitfalls to avoid."
"It turned out that we needed the entire seven years to plan and build our new facility," said Bill. "Things seemed to come together when the time was right. For instance, my brother Ben, who we crop farm with, mentioned in the fall of 2011 that he would have some extra heifers to sell just when we would be needing additional animals to fill up the new barn. It was like it was meant to be."
When designing their new facility, Bill and Merri made cow comfort a top priority.
"Everything the cows need is within 80 feet, including water, feed and a robot to milk them," said Merri.
"We decided to go with sand bedding in the free stalls," said Bill. "Many of our cows spent a good deal of time out in a dry lot and we thought that sand would be the closest to dry lot conditions. The cows seemed to agree because on their first night in the new barn all but two of them were lying in the free stalls."
The Posts' new facility is tunnel ventilated, with 20 huge fans occupying almost the entire east wall of the barn.
"We added tunnel ventilation to our stanchion barn ten years ago," said Bill. "We really liked the level of comfort, so it was an easy decision to go with tunnel ventilation in our new facility."
The Posts installed rubber belting next to the headlocks to give their cows better traction. A scraper system quietly clears the alleyways of manure as the cows enjoy back rubs from a motion-activated rotating brush. Every 1.5 hours, an automatic feed pusher shoves up the TMR while the cows lounge under the comforting glow of long-day lighting.
"We have some cows that are 14 and 15 years old," said Bill. "We were told that those older cows would never take to the robots or the free stalls. That wasn't so. Our 15-year-old cow only had to be shown how to use the robot once and she milked herself from then on."
Future growth was another big consideration for Bill and Merri when designing their new facility.
"All the site prep work is done so that we can build the other half of this barn whenever we want," said Bill. "It's only a matter of unscrewing the wood and the steel and adding the other three rows of free stalls."
The Posts' barn could then be doubled yet again by adding onto its west end, boosting its total capacity to 480 head.
"We built this barn for ourselves and for the future of the farm. It makes it possible for the kids to come home and join us if they want," Bill said.
"We have told our kids that this new barn represents an opportunity, not their inheritance," said Merri. "If they're going to join the operation, they need to bring something to the table. And if neither of them decides to come home, Bill and I can manage things by ourselves, thanks to the robots."
After being in their new facility for eight months, the Posts have experienced some tangible benefits.
"I have seen a big difference in Bill," said Merri. "He's walking straighter and he's in less pain. And he's completely off the ibuprofen."
"I've put on a few pounds since the robots took over milking for us and now I have to watch what I eat," said Bill. "Merri is no longer a single mom. I was able to attend all of our kids' sporting events this winter. And there's no way we could have gotten the crops planted and the haylage chopped this spring if we had been milking in our old stanchion barn.
"I still get up every morning and go to the barn, but it doesn't mess up my entire day if I'm a little bit late. I love working with the cows and now have more time to focus on such things as herd health and reproduction."
Bill and Merri had considered building a traditional milking parlor.
"After all was said and done, a robotic facility didn't cost any more than a traditional parlor because we didn't have to pour all that concrete for the parlor and the holding pen," said Merri.
Daryl Rylaarsdam has been herdsman at Middleroad Acres for the past 14 years.
"I love the new barn," he said. "We still work with the cows, but now it isn't nearly so physical."
Bill and Merri have already had a good number of inquisitive visitors to their new robotic milking facility.
"We hope to host a Breakfast on the Farm next June," said Merri. "We plan to have activities for the kids and look forward to welcoming visitors and answering everyone's questions."[[In-content Ad]]


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