This week as I look out my kitchen window, I can see the lights are working in the new freestall barn and the garage doors have been installed. Inside are two robot rooms that house the four Lely robots that will be milking our cows in the near future. It has been a long, slow go with this project.
    I mentioned we had to wait for the excavators to pack the walls with special clay soil to pass inspection of the engineers. The inspections were done continually throughout the back fill part of the manure storage system that is under the slatted floor. The rain made this a slick mess, and the manure storage had to be pumped as well as the trough that was being packed.
    While things were drying out, we were farming as usual. I have been milking more cows and fresh heifers each week as they calve, building our numbers and evaluating the cows that we know will not work in the robots. These cows are entered into our computer as do not breed and will slowly be leaving the herd as we get closer to project completion.
    With the rain came delays with making quality haylage. When to cut, chop and pack into the bunker in between the storms? Trying to cover the bunker in the rain and high winds that came with the weather was challenging. We heard news of a black fungus called tar spot that was infecting corn that could affect our corn silage. We worried about all of our crops with the impact of this much rain. What about the water holes in the corn and bean fields? Some days it was nice to get away.
    We had an opportunity to check out other robotic farms. In fact, we brought our electrician and plumbers to a farm so they could get a better understanding what they were going to be doing for us. None of these men have worked on a robot installation, so it was a good move to show them how this other farm did it.
    Anna had an amazing opportunity this summer as well. She is a junior at University of Wisconsin-Madison and will be returning to the farm after graduation in 2020. She was able to help with a research project through the dairy science department. She got to assist Courtney Halbach, associate instructional specialist, and Kyle Karley, a vet student, to survey robotic farms throughout Wisconsin.
    They reached out to farmers to measure everything inside the barns; stall size, feed bunk space, floor to ceiling height, area in front of the robots, around the waterers, foot baths, mattresses versus sand beds. They documented the ventilation systems, lighting and manure storage and handling. And, they asked the farmers how much time they are spending doing certain tasks. What is their main job? What would they change if they did it over?
    This opportunity gave her first-hand knowledge on what is out there in the robot world in Wisconsin. She also made connections to farmers and learned how things will be changing at our farm. She learned what we could focus on when we are no longer milking cows for eight hours a day. We will still be working, but not milking cows. Many other things will fill the time. She listened to what they said about what they wished they did different. She learned about boss cow pressure that can take place just beyond the robot.
    She brought back information and helped us with the design and plans for the inside of our barn. As a result, we have a tunnel-ventilated, insulated barn without curtains with fans and misters. Our foot baths are on the end of our freestall barn. We are using waterbeds for cow comfort in our stalls that range from 48 inches for the first calf heifers to 50 inches for the cows bedded with wood shavings. The area beyond the robots will have an extra-long gate so the boss cow cannot stand in the way. Our birthing area will be packed straw bedding over the slatted floor and a curb to keep it from getting dragged into the feeding area. All of the waterers will have plenty of room for cows to walk behind the ones drinking.
    Every day is another day closer to completion, but like all the other farmers we are concerned about continued low milk prices. I will admit the stress and worries of the delays in the new barn have been keeping us on edge. With the long days, fatigue and exhaustion come, but we seem to sleep well enough to keep awake to welcome the next day.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.