by Robyn Walsh, Farm Management Support Advisor at Grand River Robotics in Ontario.
If you’re a dairy farmer or involved in agriculture, you can probably recollect a story about a “wild” robot start-up. It probably highlights some dramatic moments and some worst case scenarios of things that can and did go wrong with a start-up. These moments are part of a transition period, and like any good transition, the more preparation that is involved, the smoother the transition can go. After being involved in close to 50 start-ups, I have come up with a preparation list for producers to aid in this process.
Who: Ask neighbors, friends, and dairy producers for help. You will need help. Whether it’s covering one of the night shifts, helping during the day so you can grab a nap, or assigning some of the regular farm chores to someone else , the help allows you to focus on milking cows and familiarizing yourself with the robots(s).
What: Your Farm Management Support representative will discuss hoof trimming, udder singeing, and top dressing with robot pellets before start up. Listen to them, they have done this before. Make sure to gather the items you will need before start-up day. I have witnessed many producers scrabbling to find extra gates, ropes, help, etc. on the day of. This may sound simple, but gathering the things you need a few days in advance can go a long way. You will want extra water hoses for keeping boots and the robot clean; STURDY gates so it’s as simple as possible to move a cow into the robot; ropes or chains for holding gates; a halter (just in case); and food (for you, your helpers and the cows). Check feed and commodity supplies to ensure you will have enough for the next few weeks. Trust me, your mind will be preoccupied. Most importantly, make sure you have food for you and your family/helpers. Order or make lots of easy to handle meals beforehand. You will forget to eat and you don’t want to live off potato chips and cookies for a week. When you’re tired, improper nutrition will only make you grumpier.
When: Discuss with your dealer/builder/trucker/neighbors/banker/nutritionist/vet/dog walker when you will be starting up. This way, they will be prepared as well and they may even offer to assist or at least drop by with coffee to be nosey.
Where: Are you a retrofit or a new build? Are animals being transported? If you’re not moving cows or only moving them a short distance, this is not much of an issue. If you are transporting animals a great distance, decide on a method of transportation in advance. Perhaps hire people who regularly move cattle.
Why: Are these preparatory item required? No. But are they highly recommended? Absolutely! By doing all this prep work before your start-up, dare I say, you may even enjoy your start-up!
How: This one is pretty much up to you. Whether you’re a hand written list maker, or use the calendar app on your smart phone, check items off the list as they are completed. Assign family members and employees specific tasks. Set up a schedule for helpers so you don’t end up with 20 people the first day and tumbleweeds the next. Spread out help and allot time for your own rest. Perhaps hold a meeting for everyone involved so everyone understands what will happen.
The earlier in advance you begin planning, the easier things will be. By having completed some simple prefatory work, you can seriously improve the efficiency of your start up. This way, even when the unknown events do arise, they should be more straightforward to deal with, decreasing both your and your animal’s stress level.
Robyn Walsh received her Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from the University of Guelph. Robyn continued her education in the dairy industry by going through Robot Signals training from Vet Vice, a commercial enterprise in the Netherlands, which delivers practical and reliable information on dairy cow housing and husbandry to dairy producers worldwide.