The Lely visit

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    Our lives changed dramatically Dec. 4, 2018. This was the day of our startup with our Lely robotic milking system. We took the collars off all of our cows and let them walk or run into our new barn. Most of them were bucking and stomping their feet just like when they go into the pasture the first time every spring. They sniffed, licked and tried the new waterbed mattresses. Later that afternoon, the cows learned about the robots. One at a time in each of the four robots, we pushed and shoved the cows to get in. Some of our girls were hesitant, many were curious, and a few kicked at the robot arm. The startup with robots involved long hours, helping cows adjust to being able to come to the robots themselves. 
    With all of this new technology on our farm, I would love to say it is all great all the time. Well, it isn’t great every day. We are spoiled with the technology, the cameras and the alarms that let us know when something isn’t right. I have gotten better at figuring out how to solve the problems, when to call for service and also when to say, “I need help.” Let’s just say we have a good relationship with our Lely dealer.
    The company that we purchased our robotic milking system through is Argall Dairy System out of Belleville. Scott Argall, the owner, was at our startup. Scott helped us push cows into the robots and program them into the computers as they came in for the first milking. This hands-on approach by the owner showed a commitment from Scott to our family.
    Last month, Scott sent me an email wondering if Lely representatives from Holland could visit our farm. Of course, I said yes.
    When they pulled up to the barn, I had been watching for them while I was feeding a calf. Scott was their escort: Geert Frank, global head of marketing and communications from Lely; Steve Kraft, North America aftermarket field support manager; and Xavier Drake, North America strategic marketing manager.
    Scott had shared our farm’s story on the ride over, and Geert was excited to learn about the agritourism part of our farm but also was here to ask how Lely was doing for us. He wanted to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly part of our Lely relationship. I could feel his excitement as I talked about the tours with school children, families and people from all over who are amazed when they see the different products that we have. He mentioned several times that he was glad I was a spokesperson for Lely when the families toured.
    Steve and Xavier wanted to know what made us decide to purchase Lely products. I shared our reasons and also that it had a lot to do with who our sales representative was. Kelsey Hendrickson drove us to farms, introduced us to farmers that have used the Lely robots and started the ball rolling to build our barn around the Lely robot technology. Having the right person selling a product makes a huge difference, especially when your whole life’s dream of dairy farming is going to change.   
    Geert questioned how things worked in the United States but particularly in Wisconsin. Holland has regulations that limit what farmers are allowed to do with their cows. They cannot dehorn any longer. The Holland farm sizes are limited with manure management and other strict rules have pushed many farms out of business. Because so many farms have closed, there isn’t enough milk to supply Holland’s demand. I shared that Wisconsin is losing one dairy farm per day but mostly from the economics of low milk prices and high inputs. Many farms do not have a future, because they don’t have family members to take over the farms. That seems to be a common problem throughout the whole world. The conversation was wonderful and fast moving.
    Geert was eager to share some of the new projects Lely is working on in Holland. As we walked around our barn, we talked and shared ideas. He spoke of the new innovations at Lely. They have projects that are helping farmers in Holland process their own milk to sell directly to grocery stores. They also have a product to deal with manure. We finished up with Geert taking photos in the combine. 
    The visit went so fast, and they needed to head off to another farm. At the moment we met, Geert insisted I should be wearing Lely gear. He took off his Lely sweatshirt and gave it to me because I was wearing a Carhartt sweatshirt. However, it was so cold he needed to wear it until they were ready to leave. He handed me the sweatshirt as we all said goodbye. That evening, I was feeling satisfied with the visit when I put on Geert’s Lely gear.
    Tina Hinchley, and her husband,  Duane, daughter Anna, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  The Hinchley’s have been hosting farm tour for over 25 years.

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