I have an alarm to help me awake and get to the barn. However, I usually lay there waiting for it to go off. Since we started with the robots milking our cows 16 months ago, my body still thinks it needs to get up at 3:50 a.m. So, I usually go to the bathroom, get a drink, check the pre-fresh camera and then head back to bed until 5:15. That is when the alarm goes off. I check the camera again and then head to the barn.
    We have alarms that go off once in a while for different things that happen with the robots. I get a phone call, letting me know the problem and which robot to go to. The other night we had one that was about vacuum pressure, and the vacuum pump was down for a couple hours. It is good to know where to start and when I need to call for help. Duane, my husband, had the pump apart, cleaned and back together before the service man arrived. We had missed a step in restarting it. We had been turning the power on and off, but it took the service guy to show us were we needed to go next. We will remember and save that service call next time.
    This morning, the alarm call was for the full milk jar. With this alarm, I know what I need to do, and I need to get it done quick or else the robots shut down. We bed with shavings and they can clog a rinse hose which will slow everything down. I have to open both ends, rinse it out and put it back together which can be done in about 5 minutes.
    Most vehicles have alarms to let you know to buckle up. Our truck has an alarm to let me know when I am backing up and getting close to the trailer ball. It will also flash a light when someone is in my blind spot.
    The GPS alarm in the tractor warns when we are getting to the end of the field. There are beeps about the fuel level, tire pressure and so many things. I wonder how well we could farm without all of the alarms and technology we use every day. Warnings, alarms and beeps. We hear them, and it helps identify a problem.
    The same thing goes for animals in distress. When a chick is cold, its peep sounds different. Just as a lamb, goat kid or calf that is hungry or hurt, it bellers to say it needs something. Our geese honk like crazy when a coyote or a stranger is in the backyard. The geese can make the UPS man stay in his truck, and their ruckus lets us know to come and get the package.
    Our best alarms are our dogs. We have two mini Jack Russell terrier puppies that bark at everything. Any noise or quick movement breaks them into a chorus of high pitched yips. Very obnoxious, but they are so cute. Both are put into the laundry room at night or not a thing would be able to sleep on this whole farm.
    Our other two dogs are border collies. They are usually very quiet unless working the cows or if something is wrong. When they bark at night, we get up to see what is going on. They did a lot of barking last week at night while the rain was pouring down. I did not hear them; Anna, our daughter, did. She got up and looked out her window to see the barn door open and cows running everywhere in the rain.
    Her alarm was, “Cows are out!” We all hopped out of bed, pulled on clothes, boots and jackets and ran to the barn. With all of the alarms with the robots and the cameras, there is not anything but barking dogs to let us know the cows have escaped. They were stomping around by the grain bins, out by the bunker silo and standing by the cow statue making a big muddy mess. They were running and kicking up their heels. The manure splatters were up and down the driveway. Holy cow, what a night for everyone. We did get them all back in before my alarm went off. The dogs were proud of themselves, chasing and barking. We all wanted to know, how did they get out?
    Back on the cameras, we could see they were pushing on a gate at the far end of the barn by the cow brush, and the latch must not have been closed. This was at 9:45 p.m. Soon as the gate opened, a group of cows left the pen and were running up and down the feed alley. They were closed in the barn by the two garage doors for a long time until one tricky cow licked the door opener. This was just after 2 a.m., and the dogs noticed right away.
    It is a handy little door opener that we use in the tractor. We had clipped it on the fan and forgot to put it back. We figured over 30 cows were out goofing around.
    The deep hoof prints all over the farm are daily reminders of what our cows used to do in our pasture. The dogs must have thought they were bringing them in just like in the old days before the robots. These dogs are truly the best alarms we own.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.