As we head into our sixth month of having our cows being milked with our new Lely Astronaut 5 robots, we have learned that some people in town had no idea what was being built in our pasture. A few thought we were building a manure pit. Our neighbors to the south thought the excavators were moving soil to comply with erosion regulations while a handful of people who drive by less frequently did not even know we have a new barn out back until they heard others talking about it.
    Cambridge is a small town. Most people usually know everything that is going on in everyone else’s back yard or pasture. Our barn has been discussed by many in the grocery store, post office, co-op, restaurants and especially at the bar where I run in to pick up our Friday fish fry. The bartender first noticed we were coming in to pick up our dinners before 8 p.m. He drives by our farm daily and was observing it all through the building process. He knew when I stopped milking cows.
    The friends, neighbors and family who did know about us building a new dairy barn had mixed reactions. Most were excited for us and congratulated us for focusing on the future of the dairy industry. They are curious what is going on at our farm. How do you like your robots? Are you missing milking your cows?
    A few questioned us. “What are you thinking?” “The dairy prices are the lowest they have been since the 1980s. You must be crazy.” “You could lose it all if milk and corn prices don’t improve. Are you sure this was a good decision?”
    Great conversations were started over these questions. It gave me opportunities to share what has been happening at our farm and to talk of what we have built for our cows. I cannot help but be excited for this is the future for our family.
    Most of these people I am talking to do not have a clue how important cow comfort is, and I cannot help smiling and pouring my pride into telling them about all the little things that have been put into our new barn to make our cows so happy, comfortable and relaxed.
    I have talked about the robots that scrape the manure through the slatted floors into the pit where the it gets stored. They picture a Roomba buzzing around. I love giving the details how the robots push our feed into the cows every two hours while I was only pushing feed in twice daily. I cannot help but be amazed about our lights slowly dimming as the night goes on and brightening as the sun comes up. It is comforting for me to ease into a new day and wind down before heading up to the house.
    I like talking about the waterbeds that lesson the rubbing on the cows’ hocks as they ruminate while they are resting. We had many cows with swollen hocks. Those have disappeared. So many inventions, new studies and technology for cows. Rubber over the slatted floor to protect their hooves from the rough concrete. Brushes that grooms the cows as they push against it. On and on I can give their imagination a vision to think about.
    Our farm has changed in the last five months. Some neighbors notice everything. The tiestall barn lights are not on at 4 a.m. anymore. The manure spreader is not pulling out of the driveway at 5:30 a.m. with the bright orange flashers blinking. We do not have a yard full of cars from my milking helpers, the breeder, nutritionists, veterinarians and other people who help us farm. The milk truck does not have to pull into the opposite lane of traffic to wait until it is safe to back into our driveway.
    In fact, most of the time our car and truck are parked in the shed, and people do not think we are home anymore. No, robots do not make it so you can leave the farm for days on end, but we can do more throughout the day and evenings instead of milking.
    We have decided the best way to show our friends, neighbors and the farmers that read my column is to have an open house or really an open barn. You all are invited, so join us from 12-4 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at 2844 State Road 73, Cambridge, Wis., 53523.
    Argall Dairy Systems will have an opportunity for farmers to win a cow brush. Sign up at http://www.lely.com/learnargall. Come early; the drawing will be at 3 p.m. There will be live music, milk, cheese and crackers, and drawings throughout the day. We cannot wait to meet you all.
    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.