Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By Sherry Bunting (Agriview)

Recent Ag Census data confirm the average age of farmers is increasing, but new and beginning farmers are a category that is also trending upward. At the same time, the dairy industry is growing and the average herd size is increasing.

Farm families are looking at positioning their dairies for the future, but a concern today is the availability of a stable dairy farm workforce. Part of this equation is the trend of younger folks coming back to dairy farms wanting flexibility for family living.

As robotic producers like Brad Biehl of Corner View Farm, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, point out, a move to automatic milking doesn’t mean there’s no work on the dairy, it just means the work is different -- it’s not tied to a 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. milking. 

For Craig Finke of Finke Farms, Nashville, Illinois, the move to modernize the 100-cow dairy came on the heels of needing a new manure system. The dairy herd is part of the Finke’s 1200-acre crop farm. Craig didn’t set out to have the most fully-automated dairy in the U.S., but that’s where his research led him after seeing automated milking and feeding in Holland.

Both Brad and Craig decided to implement the advanced double-box robotic technology offered through AMS-Galaxy-USA. The Astrea 20.20 Automatic Milking System (AMS) has the unique ability to milk 120 cows with just one robotic arm serving two boxes.

Over the past year, additional installations have started up in Ohio and Minnesota. Most recently, a dairy in Wisconsin made the move as the first in the U.S. to use two double-boxes to milk 240 cows.

In addition to the labor advantages, the Astrea 20.20 AMS gave them the ability toconcentrate on cow management over physically handling the milking of the cows.

For Brad, many of the facility management tasks can be handled from his iPhone, where he has access to integrated information from multiple sensors and can check any of six camera views at any time. The whole networked system allows his father Dalton to have access from the computer at home along with several other computers throughout the facility.
 
The free-flow, three-row, 120-stall facility has moved the farm forward for the fifth generation – Brad’s sons Blake and Baxter -- who are excited to see the transformation. 

Labor savings were an important consideration for Craig. Automation makes it possible to see a labor savings of $40,000 a year. He says the move to automated milking and feeding will “carry this farm from one generation to the next.”

Brad describes the labor situation at Corner View as “more sustainable now. My dad is thrilled to spend time in the barn without the impact on his knees and with more flexibility. There are still chores to keep a dairy operating each day, but the mindset is different.”

Dashboard analytics with the Astrea 20.20 system capture so much well-organized information to improve their management

Their lender also saw the potential of the double-box technology because the Astrea 20.20 uses a commercially proven robotic arm. “He liked that the robot itself is commercially used in harsh manufacturing environments, which adds a level of confidence in the performance, durability, and low maintenance,” Brad explains.

 

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