SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – One of the stops on the Western Ways Farm Tour a part of the National Holstein Convention June 29 was Shannon Dairy at Winfred. Shannon Dairy is operated by the Shannon Hutterite Colony, a diversified farming operation that includes some 5,000 acres of cropland.
Shannon Dairy began using a robotic milking system in April 2017. The facility started with four robots that could milk up to a total of 240 head. This spring, Shannon Dairy added two more robots to expand their milking herd to 360 head.
“We planned our facility with this expansion in mind,” said Adam Wipf, manager of Shannon Dairy. “All of the concrete and the infrastructure for the two additional robots were put in place when we built the barn.”
The dairy barn at Shannon Dairy is constructed of precast concrete slabs. Cow comfort was a top priority of the barn’s design. A steel roof with 16 inches of blown-in insulation in the ceiling, tunnel ventilation and automated sprinklers keep the cows cool on the hottest summer days. Free stall alleys are covered with thick rubber mats, giving cows better traction while reducing injuries and foot discomfort.
A squad of Lely Discovery robots constantly patrol the alleys, keeping the cows’ walkways free of manure. The facilities at Shannon Dairy also include a calf nursery that features automatic calf feeders. 
The rolling herd average at Shannon Dairy currently clocks in at 28,000 pounds of milk with a 4% butterfat and 3.3% protein content.
When Shannon Dairy decided it was time to grow their milking herd, they purchased two used robotic milkers from a dairyman who was retiring. The pen of free stalls that would house Shannon Dairy’s expanded milking herd had been occupied by their growing heifers. The heifers were moved to an offsite location to make room for the additional lactating animals.
“We drove up to the dairy farm where the guy was selling the robots, picked the robots up, took them home and set them in place at our farm,” Wipf said. “We did most of the work ourselves. … The biggest challenge of adding the two robots was the delay in obtaining some of the critical materials that we needed.”
Wipf said they have been happy with the performance of the milking robots.  
“They have proven to be quite reliable,” Wipf said. “The robots are much like any other piece of farm equipment. If you stay on top of maintenance, they will give you less trouble and will last for a long time.”
Shannon Dairy also takes advantage of the latest technology when it comes to the growth and genetic advancement of their herd.
“We do genomic testing to identify our top animals,” Wipf said. “We flush the best cattle in our herd and have been implanting embryos that haven’t been frozen. Our conception rate with embryos has been roughly the same as when we service our animals with artificial insemination.”
Dale and Barb Zimmerman, who operate a registered Holstein dairy farm at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, participated in the tour that included the stop at Shannon Dairy. The Zimmermans chatted with Wipf about their shared German heritage and anything and everything regarding the Holstein breed.
“This is an amazing facility,” Dale Zimmerman said. “It’s all very top of the line. We are impressed by Shannon Dairy’s focus on cow comfort and how calm things are in their barn.”