Watching robots on the Richard and Janal Hoff's farm milk cows is a treat.
The cows and the machines do all the work.
Hoff Dairy, Richardton, N.D., is the first in North Dakota to install robotic milkers.
The milkers are located at the end of the freestall barn. Cows enter the robots on their own, either enticed by the high energy pellets and roasted soybeans that drop into the feeder when they enter, or they come the stall to have the pressure on their udders relieved.
Once the cow is in the robot, a gate behind her shuts and the robot scans the cow's collar transponder. The cow's information is downloaded into a computer which Harvey and Janal monitor.
A soft brush swings out and washes the udder. It is automatically sanitized between each scrubbing. Then the robotic milker goes to work. First, a laser scans the cow's udder. The robotic arm carrying the milker zigs and zags until the milker is aligned perfectly, then the four milkers pop out and suction onto their targets. Each udder quarter is milked to perfection while the cow eats. Any movement by the cow is matched by the robotic arm. When the udder is empty, the milker drops off and the front gate opens for the cow to exit. Any cow that lingers in the stall too long gets a small reminder from a probe that drops from above to urge her out. Gates adjust and the station is ready for the next cow to voluntarily wander into the station.
As the pulsating robotic milkers do their job, the cows in the loafing barn either rest on mattresses, eat from the concrete feed bunk or wait patiently for another turn in the milking stations. It's an unhurried, serene scene that practically defies logic, as little human intervention is needed.
"We stress cow comfort," Harvey says.
"Do these cows look stressed?" he asks.
Read more about robotic milkers on Hoff's Dairy, p50-51 in the July issue of Dakota Farmer. Contact Lon Tonneson, editor, at 701-361-1105 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need a copy.
-- Article and video by Luann Dart, Elgin, N.D.