Building a new barn and incorporating robots is a challenging process when all of the experts involved in the project can be on site. It adds another layer of challenges when the experts aren’t able to travel to the farm, but with meticulous planning, teamwork and use of the right resources and technology, a startup can still be a great success.
Hickory Hill Farms of Edgefield, SC, moved their cows into a new, guided flow barn built for two DeLaval VMS™ V300 units during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with DeLaval, Southeast Ag Services and Bracken Robotics, the farm was able to complete the transition smoothly and safely.
The Dorn family, owners of Hickory Hills Farms.
Brittany Core, Dairy Advisor, Farm Management Solutions, laid out the plans and logistics from the DeLaval side. She shares some of the extra steps they took to get through the startup process without a hitch, without stepping foot on the farm:
- Weekly Zoom meetings prior to startup
- A written plan provided to the farm, detailing each step from final robot setup, to the first cow flowing through, to acclimating the whole herd to the new system
- Remotely checking all settings prior to startup
- Logging in every two hours to check the progress
- WhatsApp messenger group for open communication between DeLaval, Southeast Ag Services and Bracken Robotics throughout the whole process
The startup began with 77 of the 200-cow herd flowing through two robots. After just two weeks, they were able to move more cows to the robots. With the added production efficiency that the herd will gain, the farm plans to downsize from the original 200. Brittany says the success of the startup was owed not only to the careful planning and communication but even more so to the staff at Hickory Hill Farms, who carefully followed the recommendations and instructions throughout the process.
Brittany Core, Dairy Advisor with DeLaval.
While much of the communication and robot settings can be managed remotely, it remained critical for a VMS™ technician to be on-site for physical setup needs. The on-site technician would send photos to Brittany to provide updates on cow behavior, so that she could make informed recommendations for adjustments as needed. Towards the end of startup week, Brittany held remote training sessions for the farm to prepare them to manage the robots on their own and make sure they were comfortable with the DelPro™ farm management system that she’d been using to help guide the startup process from a distance.
The whole thing could not have happened without the dealership’s dedication to the project and their customers. Southeast Ag Services is just getting started in robotics, but they’ve worked hard to elevate their expertise to provide the latest technology to their dairy farmers.
Whether or not all of the conditions for a robotic startup are just right, planning, communication and teamwork are the main drivers for long term success of the transition.