October 27, 2022 at 6:51 p.m.

A change worth the investment

Middendorfs install robotic milking system, see herd improvement
Jordy (from left), Eugene and Joel Middendorf stand by the robotic milking system Oct. 20 on their farm near Melrose, Minnesota. The Middendorfs milk 113 cows in a tiestall barn and with a robot. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
Jordy (from left), Eugene and Joel Middendorf stand by the robotic milking system Oct. 20 on their farm near Melrose, Minnesota. The Middendorfs milk 113 cows in a tiestall barn and with a robot. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

By Grace [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MELROSE, Minn. – For 23 years, Joel Middendorf and his family milked in a 62-stall tiestall barn. And for the last several years, they have been switching the tiestall barn at least once to milk the farm’s 113 cows.
Now, in addition to farming 700 acres, Middendorf and his family – dad Eugene, wife Julie and their children – milk a portion of their herd using a DeLaval robotic milking system on their farm near Melrose.
“I look back on how much simpler things have been since April, and I genuinely don’t know how we ever made it to the boy’s football games and track meets,” Middendorf said. “The way we are doing things now has made me wonder why we didn’t put it in seven years ago when we first thought about it.”
On April 14, the Middendorfs walked the better producing 60% of their herd into a new freestall barn equipped with a robot, flexible stall system and rubber mats. For two weeks, the family eased the herd into its new lifestyle.
“It’s a night and day difference,” Middendorf said. “We were bedding the bed pack three times a week, and the cows just weren’t performing like they should; they were uncomfortable and that reflected in our production.”
Since the transition, milk production went up nearly 20 pounds of milk per cow per day within the first month of using the robot. Milk quality has improved, too, with a somatic cell count below 200,000.
In addition to improvements the Middendorfs have seen in their herd, the family now has more time to focus on other aspects of the farm. Middendorf said milking in the tiestall barn was taking nine hours a day.
“I think our forages this year have been way better,” Middendorf said. “I can check the barn whenever it fits my schedule. I don’t have to stop making hay to go milk, and Connie, our hired hand, takes care of milking the tiestall cows.”
The Middendorfs built the freestall barn with the next generation in mind. The Middendorfs’ sons – Gentry, Jesse and Jordy – are instrumental to the dairy and help on the farm when they are able.
“We set it up for the future,” Middendorf said. “We have the ability to add east and then an addition west to have four total robots. We have what will suit us now, but if the kids decide to come back, in say five years, the option to go all robotic milking is there for them.”
The Middendorfs also implemented an activity monitoring system. The collars help record which cows are having problems during milking, who is in heat and how often the cows are getting up to eat.
All of the information is accessible through an app. They receive notifications as to who has not been milked in a while, and with that information, they fetch cows and coax them to the robot for milking.
Middendorf said in the next few months, he would like to increase the number of times the cows visit the robot from around 2.6 to closer to three visits per day.
“There are already several cows that go to the robot three times a day, but I want that number to be higher,” Middendorf said. “I haven’t had to treat anyone in the barn yet for mastitis, which means they are going to the robot often enough, and their quarters aren’t being over milked.”
Middendorf said he appreciates that the robot pulls the milking unit off each individual teat, which prevents over milking. He said when milking in the tiestall barn, the units are watched closely, but because no quarter is the same as the next, some cows are over milked.
Middendorf said the 43 cows being milked in the tiestall barn have seen production improvements too. Without having to share space with the rest of the herd, those cows are more comfortable and easier to manage.
“Connie wanted to keep milking for another five years in the tiestall barn,” Middendorf said. “I’m fine with that, because we are still making use of the barn, and we milk the fresh cows there once before rotating them into the freestall barn.”
With their herd on an upward trend, the Middendorfs are looking forward to the continued use of robots for both themselves and the next generation should they decide to take over the family farm.
“There is so much to be learn about these robots,” Middendorf said. “But I already know that I like it, and I want to learn more about it to help my herd improve.”


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