July 17, 2014
Guest blogging today is Chelsey Johnson, public relations intern.
Growing up on a dairy farm, I became familiar with the phrase, “the cows won’t milk themselves.” The age-old saying was usually my family’s queue to leave a gathering and head home for evening milking, or the excuse for why my parents couldn’t attend an evening sporting event. However, for a growing number of dairy farms, the response to this saying has become, “but the robots will.”
This past Saturday, Paulsen President Sara Steever, Copywriter Katie Hayward and myself had the opportunity to visit Cottonwood Ridge Dairy, home to the Brad and Monica Nussbaum family east of Garretson. Their dairy is home to the first brand-new robotic dairy barn in South Dakota. Other barns in the state have been retrofitted for robots, but the Nussbaum’s barn is the first facility built specifically for the robotic units.
It was encouraging to see the large crowd visiting on Saturday. The crowd was a great mix. I recognized a number of local dairy farmers showing support for their fellow dairy friends. Some of these farmers were researching this technology for their own future upgrades. Since the venue was close to Sioux Falls, a number of urban visitors took advantage of the family-friendly outing. For some visitors, this may have even been their first visit to a dairy farm.
The barn housed two Lely Astronaut Robotic Milking units, which can handle about 60 cows each. We had a chance to see two other robotic tools at work in the barn. A Lely Juno feed pusher was driving up and down the feed alley making sure that the milking herd constantly had fresh feed available to eat. In addition, a Lely Discovery manure scraper drove through the free stall barn making sure the cement floor was always clean.
This is the fifth robotic dairy barn I have had the opportunity to see, but I am still amazed by the opportunities for improved management automated milking systems provide. Not surprisingly, installing robotic milking units can be an intimidating investment and drastic management style change. However, I can see that the Nussbaum’s approached this leap into the future of the dairy industry with a solid plan and relentless passion for their livelihood. In talking to the family and those involved in their building project, we found out that the milking herd’s production has leaped, the incidences of mastitis have dropped and the overall comfort of the cows has improved.
These results are not surprising as robots allow cows to be milked at the time they choose and as often as they want. In addition, the robots open a window to a tremendous amount of data and information. So, although the Nussbaum’s time may not be tied up in the daily milkings, they utilize that time to observe the data and tend to each cow’s health needs.
I am glad the Nussbaum family opened their home and farm to this event. It is easy to assume that technology can make agriculture less hands-on for farmers. However, the Nussbaum’s are just one example of farmers who use technology to enhance the interaction and care they provide their animals each day.
David Skaggs, South Dakota Department of Agriculture; Stephanie Nussbaum, Cottonwood Ridge Dairy; and Katie Hayward and Chelsey Johnson, Paulsen.
Katie Hayward and Sara Steever in the freestall barn.
Katie and Chelsey in front of the corn adventure trailer that was at the event. Paulsen helped create this trailer.