April 11, 2022 at 3:25 p.m.

Better before bigger

Rotzes use automation to aid in herd improvement
The Rotzes – Carolin and Paul and Stacey and Philip – milk 66 cows with a DeLaval VMS V300 robot on their dairy farm in Otter Tail County near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. The robot became operational Sept. 7, 2021.  PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
The Rotzes – Carolin and Paul and Stacey and Philip – milk 66 cows with a DeLaval VMS V300 robot on their dairy farm in Otter Tail County near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. The robot became operational Sept. 7, 2021. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE

By Jennifer Coyne- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. – The Rotzes have long farmed with the philosophy that before they grow their herd and land base, they must first become better with what they have.
    In keeping with that mindset, brothers Philip and Paul Rotz turned to an automated milking system for their dairy herd.  
    “Dad has always said we can be small if we can be good at it,” Philip said. “We need to pay attention to details and be better before we can go bigger.”

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    Philip and his wife, Stacey, and Paul and his wife, Carolin, are in partnership on the 66-cow dairy in Otter Tail County near Pelican Rapids.
    Over the last year and a half, the Rotzes updated their manure pit and built a cross-ventilated, slatted-floor freestall barn that stands 82-feet by 133-feet. With that, they installed one DeLaval VMS V300 robot that became operational Sept. 7, 2021.
    “We were tired of watching the cows come in fresh and hoped they survive,” Paul said. “We wanted to build something that was nice and comfortable for the cows. And now, we can see what the cows can do.”
    In the six months the family has used the robot and new barn, they have seen significant herd improvements.
    The herd is housed on mattresses that are bedded with lime and wood shavings which has aided in a lower somatic cell count and greater production.
    “We were bedding with chopped straw,” Paul said. “We’re two weeks in now with this new approach and it seems to be working well.”
    Previously, the herd was averaging 65 pounds per cow per day but now its maintaining a 75-pound tank average with the cows visiting the robot about 2.5 times in 24 hours. And with adjusting the ration, the herd now boasts quality milk with a 4.5% butterfat and 3.5% protein content.
    “Economics-wise, we cut the pellets and saw a bit of a drop in milk but our components went up so we’re actually coming out ahead,” Paul said.
    The most surprising improvement came in reproduction.
    For example, the Rotzes have two cows that, in the old barn, were given two shots of prostaglandin to come into heat. Carolin said they came into the freestall barn as cull cows but have since increased milk production by 20 pounds and settled on the first breeding. One came into heat right at 26 days.
    “We didn’t think we’d see that happen so quickly,” Carolin said.
    Stacey agreed.
    “Having our reproduction improve like that was a goal we didn’t think we’d see in the first six months,” she said.
    The Rotzes’ parents, Les and Nancy, began milking cows in 1972. Les and Nancy formed a limited liability company in 2009. In 2017, they transferred full ownership to Paul and Carolin and Philip and Stacy.
    Each family member has an important role on the farm. Philip oversees the dairy herd and overall farm management. Stacey and Carolin work with the cows, too, and Paul focuses on the fieldwork and feeding.
    They continue to milk their fresh cows in the farm’s original 44-stall stanchion barn which Paul and Carolin often take charge of.
    The brothers’ parents continue to be involved in the operation as they take care of the farm’s bookwork. Les also does fieldwork for the farm.
    A couple years back, the family began exploring options to improve their dairy facilities.
    “At 74 years old, our dad has always been all for robots,” Philip said. “He knows the future of dairy is robotic.”
    The Rotzes penciled out plans for two automated milking systems and a freestall barn built to the north of their tiestall facility. In doing so, they realized they had to first update their manure pit which they completed in 2020.
    A year later, after touring several farming operations and attending trade shows for product information, the family used funding from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Investment Grant program to build the new housing facility and install the robot.  
    They designed a free-flow barn with a drive-by feed alley and small hospital pen for cows in heat.
    “We looked at two robots but didn’t have the land base for it,” Philip said. “And after last year, I’m glad we didn’t try to make that work.”
    Concrete work on the barn began in spring of 2021 with hopes of construction beginning June 1, 2021. Unfortunately, it was delayed a month.
    “We ran into some roadblocks and then had a slug of cows come in mid-August,” Stacey said. “For that last month in the old barn, we were switching a lot of cows.”
    A week before the robot was up and running, the Rotzes moved the herd into the freestall barn to become acclimated to the stalls and headlocks. They also ran the cows through the robot with a small ration of pellets.
    “The girls and the kids pushed the cows through the robot while we finished chopping corn,” Paul said. “When it came time for that first milking, we rolled through it in eight hours.”
    Stacey agreed.
    “That made a huge difference,” she said. “We were told it was the easiest startup our regional representative has ever seen. They couldn’t believe it.”
    Now six months in the new setup, the Rotzes are as pleased as ever. They have seen the benefits in cow comfort, herd health and production and in their families as well.
    “Our youngest told us during Thanksgiving that he was thankful for the new barn because he now gets to spend more time with Mom and Dad,” Stacey said.
    Philip and Stacey have four children – William, 16, Wesley, 15, Molly, 12, and Walter, 9. Paul and Carolin also have four children – Lindsey, 16, Henry, 13, Cassidy, 10, and Tracey, 8.
    “Before, sometimes we’d hardly see the kids before bedtime,” Carolin said.
    Paul agreed.
    “I think this is great,” he said. “The kids are able to help, and it makes the chores so much more enjoyable.”
    While one robot is uncommon, in many ways it has been the perfect solution for the Rotzes to continue dairy farming while upholding their values as farmers. They have always stayed small and strive to do a good job.
    “We don’t fit the mold of what most dairy farming looks like, but it fits our family,” he said.


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