Stoney Springs Farm takes different path to robotic milking

Dan Hansen
Dave McCarthy left, pictured with Outagamie County Extension Agricultural Educator Zen Miller, discusses ways in which the robotic system benefits his farm’s operation.
Each self-contained BouMatic robotic milking units milks two cows at a time, attaching the teat cups between the hind legs.

Appleton - Stoney Springs Farm, north of Appleton on County Road JJ, was the third stop on a recent tour of dairy farms in Outagamie County that operate robotic milking systems.

While the first two farms on the Cow College tour, coordinated by the UW Extension agricultural educators in the three counties, featured Lely flow-through automatic milking systems (AMS) and sand bedding, Stoney Springs utilizes a BouMatic system that is significantly different, and a different method of providing cow comfort..

Several generations of the McCarthy family have owned and operated the farm since 1875. Currently, the farm is operated by Dave and Rosanne and their son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Marie.

In 2000, a freestall barn and milking parlor were added to the operation. Mats, with organic sawdust bedding provide cow comfort. Manure is stored beneath the cows under a slatted floor.

Green plastic stalls also aid in cow comfort and safety. “The cows really do well in the stalls; we have very few injuries because it’s easy for them to get up,” said McCarthy. “They’ll never bang up against one, and if they hit or lean against the stall, it will just bend out of their way; if a cow gets underneath one, she can just stand up and it will move out of the way..”

In November 2015, the barn was retrofitted to accommodate the installation of two BouMatic MRD1 double-stall robots. “Two cows are milked at a time in each unit; they’re milked from the rear by one arm, and teat cups are removed into a box behind the cow,” related Dave McCarthy.

“We chose the BouMatic system because the self-contained units fit more easily into our existing freestall barn, and because our dealer provides great service. We poured the concrete, rolled the units into place and hooked up the plumbing. Our biggest thing was running the plumbing the 180 feet from the milk house to the barn,” he added.

“Currently, we’re milking 200 cows, and we feel the barn will be maxed out at 210-215 animals. Before we installed the robots, we were averaging 85 pounds of milk per cow each day, now our daily average is at 90 pounds per cow,” McCarthy said.

Each morning the computer is checked to view lost-milk readings.”Then we check the cows and fetch fresh heifers three times per day until they get accustomed to going in the stalls,” McCarthy explained. ”Only 1 percent of our cows left the farm because they could not adjust to the system.”

The average per-cow visit to the AMS is 2.8 times per day. “We do have 6-8 cows who visit the AMS 4-5 times a day, and are producing 140-160 pounds of milk,” said McCarthy.

Cow are currently fed 7-8 pounds of pellets through the stalls of the MRD1. “The pellets are made at Purina in Little Chute and formulated by Tom Heeg from Nutrition Professionals,” McCarthy noted. “Cows also come into milk real fast and peek sooner and higher.”

The robotic milking units save 12 man hours of labor each day, according to McCarthy. “That helps us get our field work done quicker and more efficiently because we don’t have to come in from the field to milk,” he stressed. The farm’s workforce consists of Adam, Dave and full-time employee Brad Geise. Dave and Rosanne’s other son, Jesse, also works part time on the farm.

Additional technology is used to improve the operation’s efficiency. A Hetwin Stall Boy pushes up feed for the cows so a good supply of nutritious feed is always within easy reach. Recently, they’ve also begun using a Lely Floor Cleaner that runs every three hours, cleaning the surface and pushing manure down through the slatted floor.

“The floor cleaner has helped keep our cows cleaner and more comfortable. We’ve only had it about three or four months, and while our somatic cell count is about the same, or slightly lower, our cases of clinical mastitis have dropped 60-70 percent,” McCarthy said. “The cows also have better feet and stronger legs.”

With the units attaching the teat cups between the back legs of the cows, there was concern that tail switching would interfere with that, but McCarthy says the unit has a special paddle that lifts the tail out of the way, and keeps it from interfering with the laser.