August 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Adapting with the times

Nolden family’s farm continues with robotic upgrade

By ABBY WIEDMEYER | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Abby Wiedmeyer/Dairy Star
The Nolden family — Heather (front, from left), Julia and Emily; (back, from left) Tammi, Ken and Mathew — take a break Aug. 22 at their farm near Rock Springs, Wisconsin. The Noldens hosted a farm tour July 18 in conjunction with Wisconsin Farm Technology Days


ROCK SPRINGS, Wis. — The Nolden family committed to their dairy career in 1996 when they started milking in their current site, Narrows Dairy Farm near Rock Springs. For 14 years, the family worked together to milk their cows three times a day in a double-6 parallel parlor.
Meanwhile, robotic milking systems were being developed and perfected. When the federal approval was passed for robots, Ken Nolden started to think about implementing the technology on his family’s farm.
“The pace of three times a day milking started to wear on us, and the idea of robots seemed pretty interesting,” Ken said. “We started studying on it.”
After learning more about the systems, robots were installed at Narrows Dairy Farm in 2010. The family continues to rely on robots for milking, and today, Ken milks 160 cows with Tammi and their son, Mathew.
That technology is one reason Narrows Dairy Farm hosted attendees of the Wisconsin Farm Tech Days July 18 as part of a six-stop tour circuit associated with the event in Baraboo. The Noldens were able to share with guests their experience of transitioning to a robotic system.
Prior to installing robots, the cows stood in the holding pen for up to six hours per day just waiting to be milked. After transitioning to robotics, the cows live a relaxed life of strolling over to be milked one moment, eating the next and then returning to their stalls.

Abby Wiedmeyer/Dairy Star
The Nolden daughters — Emily (from left), Julia and Heather — help take care of calves Aug. 22 on their farm near Rock Springs, Wisconsin. The girls help their grandma over the summer while their mom works in town and their dad works with the cows.


“We certainly accomplished more flexibility,” Ken said. “It’s been really good for us as far as productivity.”
Mathew joined the operation after coming home from college. Ken said having two people to share the challenges of farming is an important factor of their success with the robots. When a robot has a problem, it first calls Mathew and then Ken.
Mathew said the number of calls from the robot depends on how they manage the equipment. A call from a robot might mean a major breakdown, or it might mean supplies are low. If fluids are kept full and maintained, there will be fewer calls.
“It goes down to the way you choose to maintain your equipment,” Mathew said. “Some people like to deal with things as they arise, and some people work toward maintaining so that there are less of these call outs.”
Mathew said he is able to make many repairs himself, but keeping parts on hand can be costly. If there is a technical issue that the technician needs a key to fix, then his hands are tied.
After 10 years with their robots, the Noldens sold their existing robots and upgraded to two Lely Astronaut A5 units. The upgrade has decreased the number of calls, which Mathew said is probably due to new technology and simply newer equipment.
When upgrading the robots, the Noldens also remodeled the barn so that the robots would be in a centralized location. This allowed for one robot room between the two machines versus before when they were on separate sides of the barn. Mathew said it made chores difficult because a person had to try to be in two places at once to check on things.
The cows visit the robots on a voluntary basis. Protein pellets are fed during milking to encourage cows to visit the robot. The Noldens have added molasses to the pellet mix, which significantly increased the cows’ enthusiasm for milking time.
Ken monitors the milk production through the reports the robot provides. The cows at Narrows Dairy Farm are producing 81 pounds of milk per day on average.
“It’s nice to see certain numbers, but the pounds of solids per day is all the magic on the paycheck,” Ken said. “It’s key to the operation.”

Abby Wiedmeyer/Dairy Star
A cow is milked by the robotic milking system Aug. 22 at Narrows Dairy near Rock Springs, Wisconsin. The Nolden family milks 160 cows with two Lely A5 robots.


Ken and Mathew watch their cow numbers closely because they have their robots at maximum capacity. The biggest thing they watch for is if first-lactation animals have room to learn the robot. If that becomes questionable, then culling decisions are made to create more room.
They also need to watch production because their milk is shipped to Scenic Central Milk Producers, which has a growth program that limits the amount of milk farms can ship.
Ken and Mathew agreed that the flexibility of their time has made the biggest impact on their lives and business. To be able to continue fieldwork without stopping to milk and to have more freedom to attend family events has been valuable to family relationships, Ken said.
“I really enjoy the life I’m living milking with robots,” Ken said. “The truth is, we do very little go-away vacation because I feel very good about what I’m doing.”
It also allowed for Mathew to join the operation and have a secure family life with his wife, who works off the farm, and their children, who spend a lot of time with their dad at the farm.
Ken said the legacy is rewarding.
“Life is all about the next generation,” Ken said. “That’s very important.”


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



24 25 26 27 28 29 30
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 1 2 3 4

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

oct 4, 2023 @ 9:00am
oct 4, 2023 @ 12:00pm
oct 4, 2023 @