Matt Goblirsch and his family built a 240-cow robotic milking facility six years ago. With the barn’s slatted concrete floors becoming increasingly slippery, the Goblirsches installed rubber mats in their calving pens. They have been pleased with the results and plan on installing rubber mats in the rest of their barn this winter.BY JERRY NELSON
Matt Goblirsch and his family built a 240-cow robotic milking facility six years ago. With the barn’s slatted concrete floors becoming increasingly slippery, the Goblirsches installed rubber mats in their calving pens. They have been pleased with the results and plan on installing rubber mats in the rest of their barn this winter.
BY JERRY NELSON
WABASSO, Minn. - The success of every business depends on attention to detail. Perhaps no one knows this better than brothers Matt and Nels Goblirsch.
Matt and Nels, along with their parents, Bernard and Mary Clare, and their uncle Roger farm about 1,000 acres of Redwood County. The Goblirsch family dairy operation also includes a robotic milking facility that's currently milking 240 head. They grow all their own forages and raise all their own replacement heifers.
Attention to detail paid some big dividends this past summer. Despite record-breaking heat and unusually dry weather, the Goblirsches were able to harvest five cuttings of high-quality alfalfa.
"This is the first time we were able to cut our alfalfa a full five times," said Matt. "We didn't stick to a strict harvest schedule. We watched our fields closely and cut the hay when it was ready. Because of the heat, we sometimes took the next cutting in as little as 15 days."
This keenness for details can be seen throughout the Goblirsch operation. For instance, when they built their robotic dairy facility six years ago, they opted for a slatted concrete floor with a year's worth of underground manure storage beneath it. Their freestalls are equipped with DCC Waterbeds and young bulls handle the breeding duties in the milking herd.
"Our goal is to disturb the cows as little as possible," said Matt. "We want them to establish their own patterns of living and to limit the stress of being handled by humans. Plus, the robotic milkers allow us to do other things such as manage the young stock or work in the field."
One seemingly small tweak the Goblirsches made recently in their dairy barn resulted in a significant difference.
"We put in some gates to change the cow flow," said Matt. "The cows are now forced to walk past the robotic milkers to get to the feeding area or to get back to the freestalls. This has boosted the average number of visits to the robots from 2 ½ visits per head each day to 3 ½ visits per day."
The slatted floors of their dairy barn require little maintenance, and the Goblirsches have a Lely Discovery robot to help keep the slats clean. But this doesn't mean that the slatted floors have been totally worry-free.
"We have noticed that the floors have gotten more slippery as time goes by," said Matt. "And during a hot summer like this last one, the manure will dry onto the slats faster than the Discovery can clean it off. We've had to bring in a skid loader a few times to scrape the dried manure off the slats."
The slipping issue was especially problematic in the pens where the Goblirsches calve their cows and heifers.
"The fresh animals are under enough stress without adding a slippery floor to the equation," said Matt. "We often had to pull cattle out of our fresh pens due to the slippery floor."
The Goblirsches at first tried bedding their calving pens with bales of corn stalks.
"It seemed like the corn stalk bedding would disappear through the slats almost as soon as we put it in the pens," said Matt. "Plus it made the manure harder to mix and pump out of the pit."
About a year ago, Matt and Nels decided to install rubber mats in their calving pens.
"We looked at several different kinds of rubber mats," said Matt. "Some of them would need to be bolted down, but we didn't like the idea of drilling holes into our concrete slats. We were also worried that the rubber would stretch with use and develop bulges, allowing manure build up underneath them."
The mats they chose were made by EasyFix Rubber Products. Heavily textured and made of virgin rubber, each mat covers two slats. A small wedge-shaped structure joins each pair of mats. This wedge fits tightly into the space between the slats, securing the mats to the slats.
"Installing them was a breeze," said Matt. "All it took was a few solid whacks with a ball peen hammer."
After a full year of use, the Goblirsches remain pleased with their rubber mats.
"We saw a big difference almost as soon as we put then in," said Matt. "The cows in those pens are a lot more comfortable. There's less slipping and you can see that the cows walk better. The rubber mats stay cleaner than the concrete slats in the winter. And in the summertime the manure doesn't dry onto the mats like it does on the bare concrete slats, so we have a better environment."
"The rubber mats have been a real plus for our freshening cows," said Nels. "We'll probably install mats in the rest of the barn this winter."
Some concerns the Goblirsches had were that the rubber mats would either work loose or begin to stretch and bulge. They were also worried that manure might build up under the mats. But after a year of use, the mats remain snug and bulge free.
"We've been told that virgin rubber doesn't stretch as much as recycled rubber, which makes the mats easier on the cows' feet," said Matt.
While the Goblirsches continue to pay copious attention to the details, it's a given that they aren't finished with making improvements to their dairy operation.
"Learning is a never ending process," said Matt. "We're always learning new ways make things better."