Last week I began to share the story about our expansion project. Our daughter, Anna, will be returning to farm with us after her graduation from University of Wisconsin-Madison with her dairy science degree in 2020. Until then, she returns nearly every weekend to help.
    Last October we were waiting for the permits and the results from the soil samples. The weather turned cold, and we were trying to decide if we should start to dig for the lower level of the slatted floor. The hole in the pasture would be over 12 feet deep and the size of a football field. If we started and began to pour the concrete, we would need to have a nice weather forecast for a few weeks. As it turned out, the permits were not issued until Nov. 2, and we were too nervous about the weather, so we put it all off until spring.
    As November’s autumn days passed, we continued to enjoy beautiful weather. Sunny and warm temperatures made us question why we did not start to dig. Then came December and the cold returned.
    We spent the winter months visiting farms looking at the layout of their barns, checking the different robots, trying to decide if we wanted sand for bedding or mattresses, asking about lighting and looking at styles and types of ventilation. We had so many decisions to make and wanted to know what would be the best choice for us.
    All the while, we were milking twice a day and slowly increasing our herd with the new heifers that were calving. Synchronizing breeding of our cows was a great way to get them bred, but when the calves all came at once I was a little stressed out. As the numbers of animals got larger, my days have gotten longer. I had to start getting up at 3:50 a.m. to make sure I was done milking and out of the way of the milk hauler who arrives around 8:15. Getting the newborns inside, vaccinated, tagged and dehorned before putting them in the calf pen seemed to take more time than the past.
    And with every morning employee that called in sick or did not show up, it was another reason we have decided to go with robots. Robots do have breakdowns or times when they send distress signal to your phone. I have experienced that with down cows and our SCR collars, but I do not have to go out and milk our herd by myself. The other robots will keep working while one is having issues and stops to be repaired. We have had many discussions about the reliability of robots, service experiences, maintenance requirements and technician availability.
    Waiting for the spring to come was not too painful, because we spent valuable time visiting and learning from others farmers with robots. Everyone was willing to share with us the best and worst things they experienced. It was clear in the conversations they believe in the new technology and that it made their lives easier and more productive by focusing on the other areas.
    In March, we attended the PDPW event in Madison, Wis. Many of the contractors involved in our project were there with displays. Since the weather forecast was good for the next few days, the decision was made at the event to break ground the next day. The concrete trucks rolled in one after the other loading the cement pumper truck May 1. That was an amazing day watching the crew get the whole floor poured. Then, we waited again for the samples that were taken during the pour to check how the concrete cured. To be continued.
    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.