Robotic milking has been important to North American dairy farms for many years, bringing benefits such as greater yields, better cow health and decreased labour costs. In recent years, the agritourism industry has begun to embrace the trend, using the benefits of robotics as a platform to engage with consumers.
Malvern Hills Farm of Glasgow, Kentucky, recently made the transition from traditional to robotic when they installed three DeLaval Voluntary Milking System VMS™ units. As the only robotic facility in Kentucky, they take advantage of the unique opportunity to share the care that goes into their work. “Creating quality milk for our customers is our number one goal, and there’s a lot that goes into that,” says Stephanie Mattingly of Malvern Hills.
As the Mattingly family knows full-well, consumers are increasingly concerned about how their food is produced, and the opportunity to see a robot milking a cow provides an extra incentive for them to get out to a farm and see for themselves. This was evidenced by the crowd of more than 300 who gathered at the farm for an open house. “Being a part of this community and working to better this community is our family’s focus, and it was so special to share how we do that with everyone,” Mattingly says.
Feltz Family Farms and Dairy Store in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, employs two VMS units to milk the cows that help provide some of the dairy treats sold in their on-site store. Jared Feltz is proud to be a dairy farmer and wants to educate people about the important role the dairy industry plays in the local economy. “I think it’s part of our job as dairy producers to show people what we do and be proud of what we do,” Feltz says.
Visitors to the farm can see first-hand the calm environment that the robots create for the cows, while the Feltz family can be confident that they are providing a high-quality product. Since installing the robots, somatic cell count fell from 96,000 to 54,000, and there were only two cases of clinical mastitis in the first four months.
Fair Oaks Farms, Fair Oaks, Indiana, plans to add 12 VMS units to their agritourism experience, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually. Mike McCloskey, one of the nine family owners of Fair Oaks, is optimistic about the animal welfare, milk quality, production and labour benefits that the robots will bring to the farm. “These DeLaval robotic solutions are unbelievably productive and efficient,” he said. “The level of cow comfort that robotic milking brings is very attractive.”
The twelve units will help harvest enough milk to fill one tanker truck per day, helping control milk quality and traceability.
Baerwolf Dairy produces the milk for Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus, Wisconsin. In spring of 2017, the farm completed installation of a 40-stall rotary parlour to milk their 650-cow herd. As a cow health measure, the Baerwolfs also added a teat spray robot TSR, a stand-alone unit for external milking rotaries for precise pre and post application.
Running both a creamery and a farm, the Baerwolfs have worked hard to streamline labor, and the rotary and TSR are helping them accomplish their goals. “We want the whole milking process to be something more enjoyable,” says Rob Baerwolf, co-owner. “This will be a sustainable way of attracting good help and having a dependable group of people to get the job done.”
In a rapidly growing agritourism industry, technologies such as the VMS and TSR can help create positive conversations with customers. These robotics showcase the measures taken to make sure cows are comfortable and well-cared for.