The robots are here. I have been holding off writing about our expansion project for over a year. But now that the robots have been delivered, it seems like the right time to share what has been happening at our farm.
    I believe it was around three years ago when I was at a Wisconsin Farmers Union event at the Groshek Farm where I first saw a robotic milking system. This single event changed my life. I was mesmerized by how the cows were being milked, how quiet the barn was and how the cows were content and relaxed.
    Our daughter, Anna, has always said she wanted to farm with us. But, until that moment looking at those cows being milked with the robot, I questioned how we were going to bring her into business with us. I called my husband and had my family come to the Groshek Farm the next day to check out what I witnessed. Keith and Jill took the time to speak with us about how their lives had improved along with the cows as well. In my mind, it was a done deal. I wanted robots.
    I have been milking over 100 cows twice daily with automatic take-offs for years. I like to have hired help, but I am very efficient and can milk them by myself if the help does not show up. I have to focus on getting them milked and on to other chores and feeding calves because we host farm tours, and the buses arrive around 9 a.m. If we were to expand so Anna could farm with us, I had been questioning why would we go to a parlor when I can milk the cows in the same amount of time. If we went with a parlor, it would still require hired help. I would still be milking, and my shoulders would still be sore at the end of the day. The Groshek’s robots inspired us to look further into the new technology that was waiting to help us farm easier. We could focus on calf care, quality of our crops and rations, and be able to study the 120 points of data coming from every milking. Milking with robots would improve our lives and the lives of our cows.
    We reached out to dealers and checked out the displays at World Dairy Expo. We toured farms and asked questions, took photos and dreamed about the future of our farm and what this could be for Anna and maybe our other children. Would they be interested in farming if it did not deal with milking cows for eight hours every day? This was going to be the legacy we built for our future.
    Once we were certain this was the way to go for our future, we had to figure out where the new building would be built. Should it be on the hill overlooking our farm? No, that would be a long walk or require us to drive to the barn. Should it go by the grain bins on the north side of our farm? No, it would require us to use a trailer to move cows from our existing freestall barn to bring them to the pre-fresh area in the new building. We decided to build it in the pasture next to our existing freestall and could use the fields beyond to expand if we were ever to grow in the future.
    We made our appointments and talked to our lender to see if we could get financing. We went to Dane County to get our permits. We had to hire the building inspector and plumbing inspector for the project, along with an engineering company to comply with Dane County requirements for land conservation and erosion, and design a water retention pond for the site. With the decision to have a slatted floor barn, we needed their help to design the manure storage and to connect the existing freestall barn to the storage system.
    This required us to dig holes at the site to see if the soil would allow us to have a pit under the barn. We had to dig holes 18 feet deep to check the water table to see if water would be seeping up and send samples in to be tested. To dig holes this deep, we hired the excavators to do the project. With every step, we did not know if we would be able to go forward with our project.
    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.