Feed is delivered to the cows at Tri-G Farm via an overhead conveyor. This helps accommodate the narrow 3-foot feed alley.    
Feed is delivered to the cows at Tri-G Farm via an overhead conveyor. This helps accommodate the narrow 3-foot feed alley. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
DORCHESTER, Wis. – Six years ago, Bruce and Jolene Gumz and Beth Kosik were thinking they needed to change how they were managing their 72-cow dairy herd at Tri-G Farm near Dorchester if they were going to continue dairy farming.
“We were wanting to make improvements in cow comfort,” Bruce said. “At the same time, we were all getting wore out; my knees were shot. We knew we needed to make some changes to make things more efficient and easier on us physically.”
The Gumzes and Kosik started to consider their options.
“We were strongly considering robots, but when we priced a new facility, we got hit with some pretty serious sticker shock,” Jolene said. “The idea of going that far into debt at this stage in the game was pretty scary.”
The Gumzes’ and Kosik’s children are young enough that they are uncertain if any will decide to pursue a career in dairy farming.
“We wanted to make it an option for them to come back if that is what they wanted,” Jolene said. “But, we didn’t want to make it so that it became an expectation.”
Not to be deterred from pursing a plan to make dairy farming feasible for them for the long haul, the trio started considering a robotic retrofit for their tiestall barn.
After that initial research, they decided to restructure their existing tiestall barn to accommodate a DeLaval robotic milking system.
“We toured a lot of barns that had different brands of robots,” Bruce said. “In the end, it came down to service. We were confident in the service we could expect from Bob’s (Dairy of Dorchester).”
That expectation of good service has been met.
“Bob’s has been phenomenal,” Bruce said. “If we have a problem that we can’t figure out or fix, one call or text to the repair guy is all it takes.”                                                                                                                                               Reconfiguring their barn took some careful planning. The existing barn measured 36 feet by 255 feet. A 20-by-40 addition was added to house the robot itself as well as an area for an office.
All of the old stanchions were moved, and they took the haymow floor out to raise the barn’s ceiling up to the level of the exterior eaves and installed a false ceiling to finish the barn.
Because of the 3-foot feed alley, a conveyor delivers the feed with the use of push-button feeding. The feed rail is a flexible system. The barn is scraped using a chain-driven alley scraper.
Because of their land base, the Gumzes and Kosik were not interested in expanding their herd and instead opted to keep their herd size capped so the milking could be handled by one robot. With using one robot, the facility was designed as a guided flow.
Six years after they began their robotic journey, the Gumzes and Kosik are milking 61 cows with one robot, and they agreed there is nothing they would change.
“We are able to get more milk from fewer cows now,” Bruce said. “Our efficiency has gotten so much better, and we now have so much more information on our cows.”
In addition to the data provided by the robots, the Gumzes and Kosik also began using CowManager tags.
“What we can learn from the robots and the activity monitors have made hormone shots obsolete here,” Bruce said. “We rarely ever give Lutalyse now. Everything is bred off of natural heats.”
 The goal of increased cow comfort, one of the primary goals for the Gumzes and Kosik, is one they consider accomplished.
“The barn is a completely different atmosphere these days,” Bruce said. “The cows are so much calmer, and they have so much more personality now than they did back when we milked in the tie stalls.”
All three acknowledge they see their cows differently now and find the barn a place they enjoy spending time.
“There is just a really good vibe in the barn,” Jolene said. “It is so peaceful. The flow of the barn is very natural.”    
The other goal the Gumzes and Kosik had with their retrofit was bettering their own lives, and they said they have had success.
“It has really freed up our time to get other things taken care of or to give us the opportunity to get away or have some time off,” Beth said. “One person can handle chores now. It has really made us much more flexible.”
The team divides up the work with Bruce and Jolene handling things in the morning and any cows that need to be bred as well as other herd health duties. Beth takes care of the afternoon cleaning and feeds the cows. The three rotate being on call for any potential issues that might arise overnight.
The trio also employs automated calf feeders to raise their calves.
“We can all take some time away without feeling guilty or feeling like we are dumping everything on someone else,” Bruce said. “I like having that ability to get away and enjoy some time off a little bit.”