Employee, Sam Schwartz, checks on a robot at Rolinda Dairy near Waterville, Iowa.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Employee, Sam Schwartz, checks on a robot at Rolinda Dairy near Waterville, Iowa. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    WATERVILLE, Iowa – With a beautiful new barn featuring eight robots and a design to make the most of cow comfort and management, Pat Reisinger could choose any number of things that make his dairy business rewarding.
    But it is not the structure nor its bells and whistles at Rolinda Dairy for which he has the most enthusiasm. Instead, it is the image the family’s dairy near Waterville can present to others, which he witnessed while showing the farm to a visitor soon after its completion.
    The visitor was on the farm because of the dog breeding business that is also part of the family’s enterprise. The man asked about the new dairy facility perched on a hill across from the original farmstead, earning himself an impromptu tour.
    “He smiled the whole time and thanked me over and over,” Reisinger said. “And he told me he was so happy to know this is where his milk comes from. That is really, really rewarding.”
    The Reisinger family can hope for similar reactions from others this June. The public are invited to visit Rolinda Dairy during its open house June 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.    
    Reisinger’s wife, Tara, and the couple’s three children – Reese, 18, Isaac, 14, and Drake, 12 – play important roles on the farm. Reese is a college student studying agronomy, while his two younger brothers are the farm’s calf feeders. Tara is also a surgical nurse at the local hospital and manages the dog business started by her father, Robert Thompson, 20 years ago.
    The Rolinda name comes from Thompson and Tara’s mother, Linda, who is also part of the farm’s ownership. The Thompsons milked 70 cows in a tiestall barn for 20 years before building a double-8 parlor and freestall setup to milk 150 cows, with Reisinger and Tara as partners. It was 18 more years before the herd grew to 250 head then 450 milked in a double-12.
    Soon after the partners decided they needed to do something different.
    “The DeLaval guys dropped off a booklet,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about robots, but a farm in Buffalo, (New York,) had this exact design, so we flew out there to see it.”
    With the blueprint already in hand, the Thompsons and Reisingers did not look any further. After making some adjustments to meet their preferences, they began building a new barn for a robotic operation milking 520 cows. They also doubled the size of the commodity building and lagoon, and built a new calf barn to handle the growing number of calves.
    The building, perched on a hill across from the original farmstead, is designed with four pens with two cow brushes each. It is tunnel ventilated – one of the things they changed from the New York model. The barn features guided flow to the robots, automatic alley scrapers, curtain controllers and tip tanks for water that make for easier cleaning.
    The Reisingers also installed a flex feeding system with vertical posts between cows. Reisinger said it allows a cow to lift its head while chewing to swallow more comfortably.
    “We did a little trial of it last summer,” Reisinger said. “And we liked it.”
    Two things in the family’s management also make the dairy unique. One is the 260 cows being milked in the parlor across the road.
    “What we do makes it harder and makes it easier,” Reisinger said. “We calve at home and milk those cows in the parlor for a couple of weeks.”
    That provides the base for a system of pasteurizing the parlor milk for bottle feeding calves on the home farm.
    It also means the cows in the robot barn can be nearly trouble free. Any cow having foot issues, milking slow or needing treatment is sent back to the parlor, leaving only Rolinda’s best cows in the robot barn.
    “There are no low producers in here,” said Reisinger as he stood in the new facility.
    He expects to improve upon the current daily average of 95 pounds of milk per cow. Sam Schwartz, a longtime employee, plays a key role in managing the new barn and meeting the dairy’s goals, Reisinger said.  
    But perhaps best of all, there are few fetch cows in Rolinda’s robot barn.
    The new barn went into service Dec. 8, 2020 with the purchase of an entire herd of cows previously milked in robots. First-calf heifers were bought in small groups to complete the expansion.
    Rolinda Dairy’s second unique management practice helped with the new cows and continues to pay dividends: a used robot with no arm which operates in the pre-fresh pen. Animals go through it to receive pellets, so the cows are already familiar with the boxes when they move to the new barn.
    “We saw it once in Eau Claire. So, we found a trade-in robot and set it up,” said Reisinger of the idea.
    The training robot is a left-hand entry as is the robot in the new barn’s 2-year-old pen.
Reisinger said installing a robot for training heifers is the best advice he can give to other dairy farmers transitioning to robots.
    Sadly, Robert passed away before the plans became reality. Linda remains an important partner.
    “He would love it,” Reisinger said.
    And the pattern of the farm’s growth begun by the Thompsons is poised to continue.
    With an eye toward the future, Rolinda Dairy coupled the current expansion with the dirt work for a second barn mirroring the first. The wells and lagoon capacity are in place and the generator will handle additional robots.