Today is the 12th day that our robots have been milking our cows. It was just last month that I was grumbling to one of my high school milkers to get off of his phone because the cows do not milk themselves. Well, now they do. We were at 156 cows. We are now at 175 cows and on our way to 240. They will be milked by four Lely Astronaut 5 robotic milking units.
    Our new freestall building has a feed alley in the middle with two little barns that hold two Lely robots each. It is called toll booth style, where the cows have free choice to feed and access to the robots all the time. There are three rows of stalls on each side of the barn, two facing each other with one on the outside and a foot bath at the end of both sides.
    When the cows were first brought in after milking in the morning, we were still waiting for the final inspection of the milk house and robot barns. We took the collars off the cows as they left the tiestall barn and walked them to the new freestall facility. It was a funny feeling seeing all the cows leave and the barn empty. We only put down a little feed in the morning, so they would be hungry to put their heads through the head locks in the feed alley.
    The slatted floors with rubber mats were all new and exciting for the cows. They trotted and kicked up their hooves as they made the circles around their new home. Sniffing and trying out the new dual chambered cow mattresses, drinking from the new stock tanks. It was very exciting for all of us.
    Around 4 p.m., we started up and began pushing cows into the milking area. The cows had been given cherry scented pellets in the tiestall to help prepare them for this moment. The pellets did help to lure them into the chambered area where the lasers map their teats and the milking inflations got put on accurately. New sounds, air release valves going off and just the change of procedures made it hard for some of the cows to relax and let their milk down. By the second push through, it was a little better, and it is continuing to get easier on all of us.
    We had many friends help us get the girls through the robots for the next few days. They stayed up late and rose early to see how many still needed to get through in the next couple hours. Since we were milking 156 cows in a 73-stall tiestall barn, we were switching three times per milking. We knew these girls could hold their milk for over 12 hours easily. In the old barn, we had to be efficient because as you touched them, they needed to have the machines on quick. Let down was fast and furious, wetting their bedding with milk that seemed like gallons squirting out. With being able to get milked when they want to, the cows do not wait that long, and they make their way to the robots to milk themselves.
    As of right now, we have only had to sell one cow that did not work with the robots. She had thin teats, and the inflations could not hold on. Our SCC spiked a little but has dropped down and milk production is growing with being milked 2.6 times per day. There are many cows that hang out by the robot and love to be milked, while the later lactation ladies tend to lay farther away and only come in to be milked once a day.
    We have a Juno robot feed pusher that pushes feed up to the cows several times a day. We also have little Discovery robots that scrape the manure through the slatted floor. Those two jobs, being done several times a day, along with not having to milk is life changing for us. Our new routines do not include scraping and liming the alley or pushing in feed. But that time has been already sucked up to focus on the details that we did not have time for, whether that is focusing on cows’ production, health or family. Duane and I went to a holiday party on Friday and left the farm at 6:30 p.m. That is something that has never been done before. I am sure this winter I will be working off my list of things to do when I have more time.
    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.