That would not have seemed possible 40 or 50 years ago, or even 20 or 30 years ago. But four of these new robots are now milking cows on the Denmandale Farm in Johnson Township.
Denmandale Farm is owned and operated by Davis and Betty Denman and their family, daughter Robin and sons Danny and Davis. It is a family operation milking about 160 cows and farming 1,400 acres of land.
Their robots are housed in a small building inside one of the main dairy barns on this farm, where the Holstein cows in the herd have access to the robots and can be milked any time of the day or night. And the cows decide when they want to be milked and enter the robot when they are ready.
This is a DeLaval Robotic Milking System that was put into operation May 8. Much of the winter and early spring was spent by the Denmans getting the addition on their barn and the robots installed. As a result, they found themselves behind in getting spring work done and crops planted, but were thankful for good weather.
Robotic milkers are remarkable machines
When a cow enters the robot, she has access to a supply of pelleted feed to eat. The amount depends on how much milk she is producing, which is determined by an identification transponder relaying information to a computer.
As soon as a cow enters the robot, her udder and teats are sanitized with a spray that comes from the robotic arm that has gone underneath her to the udder. Then her teats are automatically washed by the robot and a small sample of milk taken from each quarter of the udder. If there are any problems with the milk, like mastitis, blood or foreign matter, the milk is rejected and does not go into the bulk tank.
After the cow is done milking, the milkers come off automatically and she leaves the robot. Another cow is usually waiting to enter to be milked. If a cow wants to be milked before she should be, depending on the amount she gives, the robotic computer sends her out until it is her time.
Cows easily acclimated to the process
Davis Denman said it took a few days to get the cows adapted to the system. After about five weeks, they now readily use the robotic milkers, and some are being milked any time of the day. Only one cow would not adapt to the system, and she was sold.
As with anything mechanical, problems can happen. So Robin and Danny are automatically on call 24 hours a day to correct any problems.
Every eight hours, the system is shut down and completely cleaned. Sanitation is essential. Records from each cow are kept on a computer and can be accessed any time to check production and other information.
Davis said production was down some when they started using the robotic system, but is now back up to where it was before with the old milking parlor. He noted that the cows are also more gentle and comfortable.
Labor freed up to do other farm work
This family decided to invest in the system because they were tired of the labor needed to milk in the parlor 365 days a year. Now this labor is freed up to do other farm work, except for the maintenance of the robots. Each robot can handle 50 to 60 cows so they will probably add more as time goes on.
Cows in this herd are housed in a free stall barn and the stalls have water beds that are covered with a layer of sawdust, which makes a comfortable bed. They have access to feed and water 24 hours a day. The feed is a mixture of haylage, corn silage, soybean oil meal and minerals, balanced to meet the needs of the cows. An alley scraper cleans manure from the alleys of the barn every four hours.
This robotic milking system represents a major investment for this family, but they believe it will pay off in labor saved and family comfort.