The 2014 Cow College concluded Jan. 21 with a tour of two Outagamie farms that have adopted cutting-edge technology to help save time, labor and money.
The first stop was at the multi-generational Wichman dairy farm west of Freedom. In mid-november the family moved its Holstein herd from a tie-stall barn to a state-of-the-art 240-cow freestall barn that features a Lely A4 Robotic Milking System.
In describing the layout of the new barn, Brad Wichman said, "Some of the stalls are built for smaller animals, some are for larger, mature cows. There are two robots on each side of barn, and cows able to go to either robot on their side. We did that so if one robot goes down, the cows can still go through the other one."
He said most cows quickly adapted to the new system. "By the second night we had two cows going through the robots on their own, and things got better each day. Within a week most were going through on their own."
Brad's father Mark noted they haven't had to cull any animals that wouldn't adapt to the system. "We started with 160 cows, so each robot had 40 cows, and they trained really fast," he said.
Brad related that neck tags monitor cow activity and transmit the information to the barn's computer system."Twice a day we check the computer to learn what cows are 10 hours away from the robot and then put those in a split entry segregation pen which forces them to go through the robot to leave the pen," he commented.
Greg Abts, the dealer whose company installed the equipment, explained that four robots designed to each milk approximately 55 cows, are at the heart of a fully automated milking center.
"The cows come in of their own free will to get milked," he stressed. "The big driver is production, they want to get milked because they have a lot of milk in them. The other incentive is that small grain pellets also are fed when they're in being milked. We try to trickle feed the pellets at the rate the cow is milking to keep her calmer longer."
The system does everything a person would do in preparing the cow for milking, along with milking and performing a post-milking regimen, according to Abts.
"When a cow enters the stall the teat rollers have a sanitizer that cleans the teats and then the milkers get attached," he said. "Each quarter is milked individually and when a quarter is done the milker is automatically removed. So you don't over-milk one quarter for the sake of the other three."
Labor saving, increased production, and longer cow life due to less stress are the primary advantages of a robotic milking system, Abts emphasized. "The system also takes heat off the milk, which needs to be done anyway, puts in a glycol solution which is circulated through all four robot rooms to keep them warm."
Abts says robotic systems are becoming more popular in eastern Wisconsin. "There are two other area dairies with robots, one has six, another has one, and we're scheduled to install four robots in a dairy this spring," he said. "Service technicians perform scheduled quarterly maintenance on the systems, so emergency calls are minimal."
He urges dairy producers to keep an open mind when it comes to robotic milking systems. "When it's all said and done the cost to produce a hundred poiunds of milk is lower than with a conventional parlor," Abts said.
The tour continued to Van Asten's Neighborhood Dairy east of Freedom, which has a milking herd of 850 Holsteins.
Animals are housed in three freestall barns. The newest is 380 feet long and 106 feet wide. It also features two dozen fans that ensure a proper level of ventilation all year long.
The most unique aspect of the farm's operation, however, is that manure solids are used for animal bedding.
Foxland Harvestore of Little Chute designed and installed the system, which has been operating for about a year, and uses friction to remove liquid from manure.
Mark Van Asten told tour participants that manure is pumped from all barns up to a press. "The press squeezes most of the liquid out of the manure and returns it to the pit," he explained. "The dry solids then drop down a chute to a reinforced concrete enclosure below, and are ready to be used for bedding."
He emphasized that two pumps and a large press keep the separation operation relatively simple. "We're able to maintain good pit flow and consistent dry matter at 65 percent," he said. "We're also able maintain constant torque by changing motor speed."
Responding to a question, Van Asten remarked that although using manure solids for bedding hasn't reduced the amount of manure they have to apply on fields, it has eliminated their need to buy several dozen semi loads of sawdust each year, which they previously used for bedding.
"With the increasing cost of sawdust due to its use in making wood pellets, using the manure solids in place of the sawdust, is saving us money," he said.
Van Asten also said they've had no moisture problems with the bedding either during the dry winter months or humid summer months. "And we haven't seen any significant increase in somatic cell count," he said.