I have been sharing our journey towards upgrading and expanding our farm for several weeks. We are now only days away from being inspected and having robots milk our cows for us. This has been a very long and slow build, but it seems like the weeks have flown by this summer. All through the project we have farmed through the wettest year we can remember. Over 50 inches of rain have caused a lot of problems and delays in making haylage and corn silage. Fall harvest was miserable with down corn and a stuck combine and grain cart. We were very thankful at Thanksgiving, because we were almost done. There is still corn standing in the wet holes, but we are finished.
    I left off two weeks ago explaining about how everything seemed to be waiting for the rain to stop and then back filling around the manure storage. While that was finishing up, the foundation and footings were getting poured after the in-floor heat was laid for the milk house, bathrooms, utility and office areas. The bulk tank came in and was set in place. It looked so big. We went with a 7,000-gallon tank.
    The steel girders were brought in weeks prior, and when they started going up it looked like something from a science fiction movie with a lot of legs. As the storms and rain kept coming, the construction crew had to stop for safety. They worked on building the two robot rooms that would eventually house our four Lely robots. The insulation was laid on the beams, and the steel roof was placed over the top.
    While the building was being constructed, the new well was being drilled. We wanted to eliminate the high nitrates we have been living with, so the well went down to the bedrock, but then hit iron. So, the new barn has an iron filter system with the water conditioning. Foot baths were set in place and concrete pads for the waterers were poured, with water lines running up above through the special holes in the beams above. Because the manure storage is below, nothing can be under the floor.
    A septic tank had to be installed for the bathrooms. And, because we have tours and needed to have handicap accessibility, sinks were a special order that would accommodate a child in a wheelchair. The bathrooms would be inspected, too, so it was important to have approved sinks.
    The transformer from the electric company was set on concrete outside of the building, and the circuit boards were attached to the wall of the utility room. PVC pipes for the wiring were put through the holes in the beams running from one end of the building to the other. Fans, lights and electric charging stations for the Juno feed pusher and two Discovery manure pushers all had to be connected.
    Water lines and electric were trenched in, and the natural gas was drilled from the road. All the while, the excavators were moving soil to get the right pitch and drainage to the retention pond. E-mat, a straw woven erosion protector, had to be unrolled and secured all around the barn up to the fields after it was seeded with grass seed. This was done in between rain storms after the ground dried enough to drive on.
    All of the contractors arrived early while I milked and drove through the cow yard in between the switching of the groups of cows. Duane fed in the freestall barn or loafing shed and he held the gates open for the crews to sneak through, while the cows stopped for a few bites of TMR at the bunk before heading into the barn or back to the freestall. Only a few times did the cows get out during this project while the gates were accidentally left open.
    The day the robots were delivered, we had to request the other crews not work that morning. The sky lifts, JCB movers and busy people working could not distract or be in the way when the robots were set into the robot rooms inside the building. Everything went smooth with the robot installation, and the countdown has begun. I will let you know how everything turns out with our start up in the next Dairy Star.
    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.