Robotic technology is making life easier for both dairy farmers and their cows.
An upcoming open house will highlight how new technology has been utilized at Dan and Sommer Peterson’s Mill Stream Dairy.
The open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at E756 County Road V, Scandinavia.
Dan Peterson began purchasing the farm from his uncle and aunt, Don and Judy Peterson, in 1998, and from his parents, Bill and Mary Peterson, in 2007.
In 2014, Dan expanded the operation from 75 to 90 cows and built a 268-foot-by-85-foot robotic barn.
The project began last May and was finished by Oct. 13.
“I thought if I was going to improve, I might as well go one step further,” Dan said. “I knew I had to stick money into updating the facilities, so I just stuck in a little more.”
“I was pretty interested in robotic milkers, and I had been researching and planning for about three years,” he said. “It is a nice fit for a medium-sized barn.”
By going all robotic, he eliminated one full-time worker and currently only needs one employee.
With everything managed electronically, Dan monitors and manages his operation on computer and a mobile device. He continues to attend training sessions to learn more about the robotic systems.
“I still put in as much time, but I don’t mind being at work,” Dan said. “Life is much more enjoyable now.”
No matter how high tech one gets, people are still important, he said.
“People notice things that a machine won’t,” Dan said. “The computer can detect the presence of blood or mastitis in the milk, but a person is needed to check the computer about twice per day and check for health issues and injuries.”
The milking cows are housed in 163 comfort free-stalls. The barn includes a separate dry cow area, two maternity pens and a special needs area.
Each cow is identified by a transponder tag (computer chip) in the ear and an activity collar around the neck.
Circular movement is encouraged in the free-stall area as the cows eat, drink and sleep. Electronic sorting gates enable the computer operator to move individual cows from one area to another as they pass through a series of one-way gates.
The sorting system is entirely computerized so each cow may be diverted individually to visit the milking area, with some being milked every 6.5 hours. Currently, the cows are averaging 2.9 visits per day.
The 90-cow herd is milked by two DeLaval Volunteer Milking Systems (VMS) units, with room to expand to four units in the future.
The VMS units prep and milk each cow, check milk quality, production and record any discrepancies. Abnormal milk can be automatically diverted away from the main tank.
Each VMS unit can milk about 60 cows per day.
A remote feed pusher keeps the total mixed ration close to the eating area and is programmed to push the feed closer with each hourly pass.
“If it can entice a few cows to get up and eat, it stimulates better appetites and potentially more visits to the robot milkers,” Dan said.
Ultrasonic waves bounce off the barn wall to help the Lely Juno unit determine its location. Metal plates in the concrete floor tell the feed pusher when to make a 90 degree turn.
The high-tech barn includes fans and curtains that are automatically controlled by thermostats and lights controlled by photocells and timers.
Slatted floors allow for self-cleaning, with the entire barn built over a manure pit. The pit has about a one-year storage capacity.
The Petersons are planning to expand to about 130 cows, but prefer to purchase young cows or heifers.
“Not all cows adapt,” Dan said. “The transition is tough on them – especially the older cows.”
When the herd expands, they will need to keep the robotic milkers in peak operating condition.
“A robot can’t be down for even a few hours if you’re at full capacity,” Dan said.
With the new technology and cameras watching every corner of the barn, he can assess his farm information remotely. This makes it a lot easier for Dan to take a day off or go on a vacation.
“I can manage my farm from anywhere,” he said. “I just need Internet access.”