When I got asked to write this post I was thrilled to write something about our robots that was aimed to a fellow dairy producer rather than a consumer. After I started thinking about it I realized it was going to be difficult to put everything I love about our new robot setup into one small article. I will do my best to give you a picture of what I love already and how I see us evolving as we get more experience with the setup. My disclaimer is that I am no expert, we are only 2 months into the system so I do not claim to know everything. However, because we are so new to it I think it offers a different perspective than other situations.
The main reason we decided to delve into the robot market was because of our labor issues. The reality of it was that at 4:00 am and 4:00 pm, whether we had a milker and scraper scheduled or not our lives stopped. We were always there having to monitor employees or simply work for them. That is not a life we wanted for ourselves. We were to the point where our options were sell the cows or buy robots.
In February 2013 we decided to go with the 'buy robots' option and we ordered our four Lely A4 Astronauts. Talk about a life changing experience. Keep in mind, we were not one of those farms where we could build a brand new barn and the setup was perfect. We built a new freestall barn in 2008 without even a vague thought that we might get robots someday. Our only option was to work with what we had which means our setup is not perfect.
Obviously our labor picture has had a dramatic change. But the other thing that has greatly changed is the management of the cows. This may sound strange, but I am able to manage cows individually by managing them as a group. What I mean is I set general herd perimeters in the computer and the program customizes it according to each cows’ stage of lactation and milk production. In my opinion, this is what each dairy farmer dreams of; having a group of cows to manage but being able to feed them individually according to how they are producing.
Each time a cow walks into the robot to be milked I can receive up to 200 data points. Talk about a lot of information. I have had to work through the urge to be a micromanager. At the same time, that data allows you to really see how a cow reacts to certain things and you are able to watch her closely even if you aren't checking daily with your eyes and stethoscope; it’s a whole new type of tool.
The process of switching from a traditional management system and a robot management system has been challenging. In the end, it has been totally worth it. I truly believe investing in this type of a system is the best thing to do for the cow. It is unbelievable when I come out in the barn at 1 in the morning to fix a small problem and there is a line of cows banging on the entry gate for me to hurry up!
In addition, it has changed my life completely as a person. I have the flexibility of being able to come and go when I need or want to. As long as I get the work done it doesn’t matter when I do it. The cows will continue to milk themselves and I can go live life. It seems like too often dairy producers don’t put a value on their quality of life. There isn’t a monetary value that can be put on living life.