The real facts and experiences of having a robotic farm

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Keith Groshek, Agri-Nutrition Consulting customer working with Dr. Anne Proctor, farms with his father and uncles near Amherst Junction, WI.  They have grown the Holstein herd from 120 head in 2012 to 210 cows today (and capacity for 240 when the milking barn is full), thanks to the innovative ideals and advancements they have added to the dairy. In 2014, they built a robot milking barn with 2 pods; 4 robotic milkers.  The Groshek Dairy is currently averaging 90 lbs. of milk per cow and 3.7 % butterfat.


gmnmnAs a family man, Keith wanted to have a more flexible schedule while maintaining a high producing herd without depending on hired labor. The thought of robotic milkers came to him in 2010, but he wanted to do things right the first time around, taking his time in educating himself and learning the different types of robotics and facility layouts. Keith spent over 2 years gathering any and all information he could he his hands on. Through his travels of visiting 11 different robot farms, he finalized his plans for his new milking facility. The guided-flow traffic design from DeLaval was the right choice for his vision and style of farming.

Keith did consider both types of flow traffic (guided and free flow), but as he saw some of the free-flow systems he noticed a few things that would not be a good fit for his style. On some of the free-flow farms, he would watch a few of the cows go through the milking stall, turn around and go back again. He did not like the idea having the cows circle the robot with no restrictions.  The biggest issue for Keith was that there was no catching or holding pen for the cows to administer medication, AI, etc. This meant having to physically go out and fetch cows that were in heat to AI or needed to be treated. This would demand more labor on his part, limiting his time for other jobs around the farm.

As a good herdsmen, Keith knows what his shortest stave is on the farm; amount of work force. He has some part-time help, but he is responsible for the majority work out in the barns. He solved this problem by having everything linked to his phone: such as cameras in the calving barn, all the data from the robots, alerts to tell him when a specific cow is milking or in the catch pen, and other programs. However, all these additional machines are not there to do everything for him; they are tools to enhance his productivity.

fdhjngvbHis main intention was to design a barn built for the comfort of the cows. Therefore remodeling his old milking barn would limit the size and the additional machines Keith wanted to put in, such as manure scrapers, catch pens, etc.

“I would recommend farmers to invest in building a new barn and not remodeling their old one,” stated Keith. “It will only cause them more problems later on.”

Using technology in this way led him to reduce the amount of times the cows would be disturbed for daily maintenance and chores such as manure removed in the alley ways.  He felt that the alley scraper and feed pusher would improve cow comfort and time management.

Making an all-in investment has made Keith successful in his endeavors as a dairy producer, but what separates him from other producers is his open-mindedness to technology and his willingness to learn. He has gone to numerous classes and has learned through trial and error.  He mentioned how people have this “expectation that robots will solve all their problems and they can just walk away after they are installed.”  Keith further explained “There is a trade-off from being underneath the cow to maintaining the robots via updates, regular upkeep, and cost of parts. People forget that these machines run 24/7.”

sgegIn addition, there is an art to understanding what the robot data is telling you and what is actually going on in the barn. Keith is a “cow guy” and understands the dynamics of what it takes to keep cows healthy and comfortable. In the beginning, he had to go through some trials to figure out how to translate the computer information, and even today, he is still learning. Robots are not cure-all. They are a technology to improve the farming experience through better cow comfort and time management.

 

1 Comment

  1. It is wonderful post about robotic farm. There are many dairy farms using robotic machines to increase their productivity. Keep it up to share such information about it that would be helpful for many people.

    Reply

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