April 21, 2023 at 5:59 p.m.
Robots remain the answer
“We never wanted to expand to a big farm, and we never wanted employees,” Makos said. “When the robots came to my attention, it was the perfect fit for me because now I can manage cows.”
Makos opened his farm to guests April 12 as part of a robotic tour hosted by Argall Dairy Systems. The tour also visited Voegeli farm near Monticello and Morton Farms near Evansville.
Makos milks 70 cows in a freestall barn with a Lely A5 robotic milking system. He bought the farm from his father in 2012 and installed his first robot, a Lely A3, in 2014. When an upgrade became available in 2021, he took advantage of the cost discount and installed an A5.
The upgraded robot relies on electrical components instead of air-driven parts, which results in a quieter system. There were also improvements made to the arm attachment which Makos said is more accurate.
Makos had close to 80 cows in the tiestall barn and downsized to milk 65-70 cows with the robot. He now averages between 100-105 pounds of milk per cow per day with an annual somatic cell count average of 150,000. Even with fewer cows, Makos is producing more milk than he ever did in the tie stalls.
The cows are milked an average of 3.1 times per day with the robot. Makos said it was an adjustment for the cows when they initially installed the robot, because the freestall system was new to the herd as well.
“The first days can make you question a lot of things, but you have to just get through it,” Makos said. “This time of year, I start appreciating it more when there’s fieldwork to be done, and I don’t have to be back here at a set schedule.”
Makos and his dad farm 275 acres. Cows are fed a total mixed ration with a high haylage diet. Feed is mixed once per day and fed by 8 a.m. Haylage, baleage, high-moisture shell corn, corn silage and mineral are fed in the ration, while all the protein is fed through the robot while the cows are milked.
“When we first started, our feed man came up with a pellet that he thought would work with our feed,” Makos said. “We haven’t changed much since.”
The freestall barn is a 3-row barn with the robot on one end. Makos said he decided to go with three rows because of the hill the barn sits on, and it was more cost effective to build longer instead of paying for more excavating. A special needs pen is right next to the robot for fresh or sick cows.
Makos said there are two things he wishes he could change with the layout. One is that he would have allowed more space in the area between the stalls and the robot, because right now, the area is easily congested.
The other change Makos suggests is to make the foot bath easier to utilize. His foot bath is on the far end of the barn, which he said is inconvenient.
“I didn’t realize how big a deal hairy warts were going to be in a freestall barn,” Makos said. “If I had to do it over again, I would somehow design it so there’s a foot bath closer to the robot. Other than that, the rest of the barn I love.”
Makos said the cows eventually adapted to the design. He has had the best luck training fresh heifers. While every cow is different, most animals are adapted within a month of freshening. Makos checks for fetch cows at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., and any cow that has not been milked for 14 hours is sent to the robot.
“I’m not very good at just leaving them go,” Makos said. “I’d rather get her milked than take a chance on them not milking and getting mastitis.”
Free stalls are bedded with sand, which Makos said helps his SCC stay low and avoid having to treat cows. He said he maybe treats two to three cows for mastitis per year. When he does, he either treats them while they are in the robot, sorts them into the special needs pen or treats them in the freestall barn. Then, he said, the important thing is to remember to update the computer so the robot knows to dispose of the milk.
“Make sure you do not leave the barn without entering that in,” Makos said. “I’ve caught myself walking out a few times.”
Makos also uses a Lely Juno feed pushing system and automatic barn scrapers. Manure is pushed into a two-day reception pit and then pumped to the main manure pit with a piston pump and underground plumbing.
“It’s been everything I wanted it for,” Makos said. “Between change in lifestyle and improved production, … it’s been more than worth the money and investment.”