Relying on robots

Gone are the days when milking chores dictate when you get up in the morning and when you have to be home to milk cows at night.

Robotic milking is available for those farmers who want the latest technology and are looking for another way to manage their dairy herds.

Dairy producers Doug and Tina Suhr, Kasson, are among a handful of operators across the state who have upgraded to robots. They made a major investment in two robotic milkers to milk their 118 cows.

Key Points

• Challenges with employees pushed producers to robots.

• They toured farms in the Netherlands to see robots.

• Change has brought an improvement in quality of life.

They researched robots for several years while they milked in a double-six herringbone parlor. Challenges with employees pushed them to seek an alternative to working as labor managers.

The Suhrs toured farms in the Netherlands that had robotic milkers and liked what they saw. In 2008, they installed two Lely Astronaut 3 units.

“The biggest change with having them is the improvement in our quality of life,” says Tina. “They allow us to be more flexible as a family.”

The couple has two daughters, Sierra, in the eighth grade, and Gabrielle, in the fifth grade, who are active in sports, 4-H and church youth groups. Doug and Tina also are busy with business-related responsibilities. Doug is president of first district with the National Farmers Organization and a Dairy Herd Information Association board member. Tina is treasurer of the Dodge County American Dairy Association.

Now it takes the couple about 40 minutes twice a day to do chores that took five hours with the same number of cows. Instead of milking, however, they check management information on the computer, bring in cows not milked in 14 hours and scrape the barn.

“If we want to do chores at 3 p.m. or 7 p.m., we can,” Tina says. “If we want to go somewhere, it is so much easier to find someone to feed. The flexibility is huge.”

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Just a call away: Routine milking time is nonexistent for Doug and Tina Suhr since they installed their two robotic milking units two years ago. Cows walk into the stalls when they want to be milked, and technology takes care of the rest. If there is a problem, the milking system’s alarm system goes off and calls their cell phones.

This article published in the June, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.