It has been two months since we ran our first cows through our robots Dec. 4. Time has flown by. In fact, I often mention it like a time warp when we come to the barn every day. I look at my phone when I get outside, and then before I know it, it is noon. I have actually put an alarm on my phone to remember to stop for lunch or else the day is gone, and I have forgotten to eat.
    In the beginning, I was still getting up at 3:50, as I had when I was milking in the tiestall barn. I would come and fetch cows, and push them through the robots. I soon began to notice that some of the cows would be waiting for me to bring them to the robots. Several would give me a good morning “moo” in the old barn and would wait by the robots but refuse to go into the robot on their own. There they stood leaking milk, obviously needing to be milked, just wanting the comfort of me being there to show them the way. I did that for one week or so, and then slowly weaned them to go in on their own. That was simple. I slept in. They realized quickly that comfort was something that came from the robot and not me. And for me, comfort was being able to sleep in a little longer, or use that time for myself to do laundry or the other things that busy farm moms do not get to do as often as they want.
    When I do get to the barn, there is always a list of cows to fetch. Some days more cows than others depending on what time I walk in and make my list. I find it satisfying when I approach a cow that needs to come in to be milked and she is aware and starts to get up. I tend to think they feel guilty walking with their heads held low as they slowly head towards the robot. Other cows head butt them as if almost to say “You are busted.” It is really a great feeling for me when the girls finally are not on the list anymore. They are trained.
    We always have some on the list due to heifers calving and other new cows that we have purchased and are adding to our herd. The new heifers from our herd had been bred when they were about 13 months or so. We have 20 heifers to calve in February. When their dams were being bred, we were only dreaming of a new barn with robots. So back then, our focus on our herd’s improvements were on feet and legs, not so much on teat length and placement on the udder. To date, we have marketed only one heifer that had teats as narrow as my pinky finger. The milk inflations would not attach because of loss of suction. We were not going to switch to a smaller size inflation for one animal, so she left the herd.
    I have another heifer, named Chance, that has short, fat teats. I have had to personally hold up the inflations as the robot is attaching them to get them to latch onto her teats until she has let down. Since the first milking she is getting more frustrated with the whole process and has begun to kick and fuss. So my husband, Duane, has to help, too. We have to rub her tail head, because we cannot use a kicker on her or tail her. I feel her pain and anxiety every time she comes into the robot. If it does not attach and it times out, she gets released and has to return to do it all again. By the time she is finished, I am sweating from head to toe. I am hopeful she is feeling relief, but it is a lot for her to relax and letting down her milk has been difficult. She is eight days fresh, and I will need to see some improvement soon, or she will have to be the next one to leave because she is having a hard time adjusting to the robots. This is one time I wish I could take her back to the tiestall barn and milk her there.
    In this month, I am hoping to not have another Chance. But truthfully, for the rest of the heifers and new cows, it is an easy adjustment.
    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.