Tech Tuesday – Energy Efficiency of Robot Systems at Iowa’s Dairy Center

Iowa’s Dairy Center located at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, Iowa, includes a 250 cow dairy herd for teaching and demonstration. In December 2013 two Lely robots were added to the facility increasing the herd size to 300. One robot has Jerseys and one has Holsteins. With half the herd on robots and half that still milks through a traditional parlor, they were uniquely positioned to have Hawkeye Rural Electric Cooperative perform an energy audit to compare the two systems.

During a 2014 energy audit, Iowa’s Dairy Center evaluated energy consumption of the dairy operations to compare the traditional parlor milking system and the robotic milking system.

The robotic milking system has lower electric demand. This is due to round-the-clock operation of smaller milk harvesting equipment loads. Energy utilization at Iowa’s Dairy Center is higher on a per-cow and per-hundredweight basis than “typical” Midwestern dairy operations. The use of two separate milking centers instead of one results in some of the equipment being oversized and underutilized in the milking parlor.

Read the details in the form below.



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Lely Dairy Farm Hosts Illinois Forage Expo

Martha Blum, Field Editor with AgriNews has written about the Illinois Forage Expo held at Willow Creek Dairy Farm. The Lawfer family moved their cow herd into this facility in December and the cows are milked with two robotic milkers. The farm is in an expansion phase and by adding two more robots to the barn they will have the capacity to milk up to 240 cows.

Read an excerpt below or the entire article here.

 Farmers at the Illinois Forage Expo check out the new fabric freestall barn at Willow Valley Dairy Farm. The Lawfer family moved their cow herd into this facility in December and the cows are milked with two robotic milkers. The farm is in an expansion phase and by adding two more robots to the barn they will have the capacity to milk up to 240 cows.

Two Lely robotic milkers were a featured attraction at the 2015 Illinois Forage Expo held at Lawfer’s Willow Valley Dairy Farm near Kent.

“If someone told me four or five years ago that we were going to put robotics in, I would have said you were crazy,” said Ron Lawfer, who together with is wife, Julie, and son, John, manage the operation. “But a couple of years ago we started brainstorming on where we were at and where we needed to go and robotics were brought up.”

John Lawfer graduated from University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where robots were used at the dairy farm.

“He saw the benefits and then it was a matter of convincing mom and dad that this was the way to go,” his dad recalled.

“Initially we were going to put the robotics in our existing facilities, but cow comfort and cow flow are so important with robotics,” Lawfer said. “After looking at other retrofits, we decided we needed to build a facility that provided the cow comfort and cow flow to make the robotics work properly.”

The Lawfers choose a fabric building for the freestall barn.

“We put up our first fabric building in 1996, and we are really happy with the fabric buildings we have,” Ron Lawfer noted. “My wife and son looked at some fabric buildings and when they came back from the tour, they said this is the type of building we’re going to build.”

The new building was open to all those attending the Forage Expo sponsored by the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council. Cows were moved into the new building during the first week of December.

“We like the clear-span of the building,” Lawfer said. “We also like the brightness inside the building and the air quality because we definitely wanted a building for cow comfort.”

Cow Comfort

Currently, the Lawfers are milking about 150 cows. The freestall building was built to avoid overcrowding of the herd.

“We have 130 stalls on each side and enough space for 2-foot per animal,” Ron Lawfer said.

The milking herd is housed on one side of the building, where the two robotic milkers are located. The bred heifers, dry cows and calves are located on the other side of the freestall facility.

“As we build our herd, we are set up to put in two more robots,” Lawfer explained. “The entire building is designed to milk 240 cows, and then our heifers and dry cows will be housed in our original buildings.”


Since cows are creatures of habit, Lawfer said, the first three weeks after switching the cows to the robots was challenging,

“But we definitely see the benefits,” he stressed. “The cows are milking an average of three times a day.

“We immediately got a 15-pound increase in milk production,” he said. “That is a result of cow comfort and more frequent milkings.”

Each time a cow is milked by the robot, 120 pieces of information are collected on the cow.

“It’s like the cow is getting a physical every time she goes through the robot,” Lawfer said.

The robot collects information such as the temperature of the cow, how many steps she has taken and how many times she’s chewed her cud. It shows the amount of milk produced, the level of butterfat, and the color of the milk.

“The computer will flag a cow and find an issue coming up before we can see it,” Lawfer explained. “And it tells us when the cow is in heat and the optimum time to breed the animal.”

The dairy industry identifies traits in sires that important for robotic systems.

“John started breeding the herd with these sires two years ago,” his dad explained. “So the heifers we’re freshening now are considered robot ready and they are adapting real well.”

Read the entire article here

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Robots help Orford couple earn Dairy Farm of Year honors

John Koziol with Union Leader Correspondent writes about the Tullars of New Hampshire. Read an excerpt below or the entire article here.

For working hard to make their cows happy, productive and comfortable, Karen and Rendell Tullar were recently honored for having the best dairy farm in New Hampshire.

And they have some robots to thank.

The Tullars operate the Tullando Farm on the Daniel Webster Highway, along the Connecticut River, where they have 500 milking cows, all Holsteins. On a 1,500-acre spread they also cultivate 400 acres of corn, 100 acres of alfalfa and 100 acres of grass to keep the bovines fed.

In a first for the Granite State, the cows are milked several times a day by one of the eight Lely Astronaut A4 robots that were installed at Tullando last June, which is when the cows also got a brand new 10,000-square-foot barn.

Rendell Tullar says the robots represent the continuing evolution of the farm, which was founded in 1956 by his parents, George Tullar and the former Barbara Anderson,w and whose name is a combination of theirs. A robot costs about $200,000, for a unit that can milk 55 to 70 cows, according to a 2013 Modern Farmer article.

Years ago, George and Barbara Tullar were honored by the New England Dairy Promotion Board with the New Hampshire Green Pastures Award, also known as the Dairy Farm of the Year Award, which was started in 1947 to recognize one outstanding dairy farm in each of the six New England states.

Winners are evaluated on production records; herd, pasture and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.

Now, the award has gone to a second generation of Tullars, and Rendell Tullar hopes that the pattern of success will continue when his children and even his grandchildren begin running Tullando.

“I think it’s a great honor,” Tullar said of the NH Green Pastures Award, which in 2014 was presented to the Forbes Farm in Lancaster. “Some really good farms have received this in the past. My parents received it, and it’s kind of nice,” added Tullar, to have it remain in the family, so to speak.

The Lely robots use a laser to first position an arm outfitted with a sprayer and two rotating horizontal brushes to wet and clean each of a cow’s teats and then to precisely line up pulsating suction pump over the teat.

They are changing the way Tullando does dairy farming for the better, Tullar said, and will gradually help increase the amount of milk that the Tullando cows produce. But they’ve already forever changed the way cows are milked.

Each robot is available 24-7, so when a cow wants to be milked, it no longer has to wait for a human being. That development means that the Tullars are adapting to what Rendell Tullar called “a real learning curve,” in that neither he nor his wife have to spend between 13 and 15 hours a day in a milking parlor.

As hoped, the Lely robots are giving the Tullars more time to spend with their three children and six grandchildren, who, along with Rendell’s four siblings, all help out at Tullando, albeit to varying degrees.

“One of the big things on my agenda was to make it (dairy farming) attractive to the next generation,” Tullar said, adding “my dad and mum” who both passed away in 2014, “did it for me.”

UNH Cooperative Extension agent Michal Lunak, who is also the state’s dairy specialist, said the Tullando Farm was well deserving of the 2015 Dairy Farm of the Year Award.

He noted that going back to Barbara and George Tullar, the farm has “always been open to changes, especially changes in new technology and efficiency.”

“Tullando Farm is a great representative of the New Hampshire dairy industry,” Lunak summed up. “They maintain a neat, clean, very progressive and efficient operation, and take great pride in the work that they do.”

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Got milk? Try robots — Canaan, Conn. dairy farm plans to go high-tech



Carrie Grace Henderson, a reporter with (Waterbury) Republican-American has written an article on the Freunds of Canaan, Conn. who are building a new dairy barn and adding Lely A4 Astronaut robotic milking system. Read the excerpt below or the entire article here.

The cows on Freund’s Farm are about to trade in their cowbells for transponders, and robots will take over their daily milking.

The Northwest Corner farm next year will become the first in Connecticut to include robotic milkers in a new, high-tech barn _ a move that the Freund family says will save manpower and could increase milk production. It’s a bold move for the family business, one of the last 149 dairy farms in Connecticut in a state once home to hundreds more.

The family decided in January to build a new barn and include the latest technology, said Isaac Freund. They hope construction will be completed by next spring. Isaac Freund and his sisters, Amanda and Rachel, are third-generation Freund farmers. Their grandfather bought the land in the late 1940s.

“We think this is the perfect project for a generation change,” Isaac Freund said. “Last year had some of the best milk prices on record, so we knew we had to move forward.”

While Freund’s Farm will be the first in the state to switch to robotic technology, the trend is growing in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said Wayne Kasacek, Department of Agriculture assistant director.

The milking of cows is a chore long ago mechanized but people were still required to hook the cows up to the equipment and groups of cows had to be milked at once.

At Freund’s, which has a herd of 300, the cows currently are milked twice a day, at 12:30 p.m. and at midnight. The milking stalls can hold 20 cows at a time, while 50 to 60 others wait in a holding area that can be hot and stressful to the animals, Rachel Freund said.

The robots will turn the farm into a 24-hour milking operation.

The new system will recognize each cow as it comes through the barn door with chips inside a transponder around its neck, Rachel Freund said.

The robot, which looks like any stationary stall, has a laser that will take 3D images of each cow’s udder. This allows the robot to attach itself without human intervention. When it recognizes each cow, it will know how to attach itself for milking.

The cows will be trained to seek out the robot at milking time. The freedom of each cow to make its own schedule will allow for more than two milks a day for fresh cows and fewer for cows that produce less milk, Rachel Freund said.

The cows will have to get used to the robots, and each animal will have to be walked through the machine one at a time during the first week. Cows will be enticed into the robot with grain.

After initial training, when a cow decides it is milking time, there will be a handful of cows ahead in line, rather than the 50 to 60 in the holding area.

Freund’s chose a Lely-brand robot from Europe. The most recent model, the Astronaut A4, costs upward of $200,000. 

The high-tech collars will provide other helpful information as well, such as how many times a cow ruminates _ or chews her cud before digesting it _ as well as how much the cow walks around and when it may be in heat.

“If we change any of the feed, we can tell how the cows respond to that,” Rachel Freund said. “Ruminating less, there might be something wrong. Walking less could mean they are sick.”

The new barn will have other updates including insulation, new bedding and alley scrapers that clean barn floors without disturbing resting cows, all in the hope of producing more milk.

Rachel Freund said the new technology can cut the cost of labor, but with a sprawling operation that includes more than 600 acres of crops, it is unlikely the farm will have to cut staff.

A study by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences said robot milking can increase production between 3 percent and 11 percent.

“If a cow is comfortable, she is producing milk,” Rachel Freund said.

Read the entire article here.

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Congratulations on the new Lely Juno feed pusher!


Peter Sturkenboom of Westlock, Alberta Canada recently received the Lely 100 Juno feed pusher he won in the Lely “Did Juno” contest.

From left are Rich Peters of Penner Farm Services in Alberta, Peter Sturkenboom, the winner, an employee of Sturkenboom, Keith of Penner Farm Services, David Numan, dairy sales south for Penner Farm Services, Arjan Dominicus of Penner Farm Services and Ben Smink, Lely North America Manager, Farm Management Support.

Congratulations and look for more contests coming from Lely! 

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From CommonGround: The Importance of Cow Comfort

Barbara Siemen is a dairy farmer, mother and volunteer from Harbor Beach, Michigan who contributes to the CommonGround program which is a national movement of farm women who want to share information about farming and the food we grow with consumers. In this blog, Siemen shares about their dairy operation transitioning from a parlor-milking system to a Lely robotic-milking system.

Read an excerpt here or the entire blog.

by Barbara Siemen

It was a huge undertaking for us, but it’s well worth the change because of the advantages it brings our cows. Robots in our barns have brought consistency and, as a result, more quiet to our barns and contentment to our cows.

Milking with the New Robotic System

  1. The cows walk to the robots by themselves and wait to enter the robot.
  2. The cows walk into the robot one at a time to be milked.
  3. The robot cleans and preps the cow and attaches the milking apparatus. Meanwhile, the cow munches on a cherry-flavored pellet in a food bin in front of her while being milked. Her regular food is still in the feed alley as always, but this is a special treat she gets to have while standing in the robot.
  4. The robot senses the decreasing milk flow in each of the udder quadrants and detaches individually. This is big improvement for our cows as they no longer get milked after they are dry, which can be very uncomfortable for them.
  5. Next, the food bin swings forward and the cow walks out as the robot cleans and preps for the next cow that is already walking in.

One great benefit of the robots is that our cows milk themselves 24/7 on their own schedule, not ours. And as I said before, our barn is now super quiet and calm. We no longer have anyone whistling or calling to get the cows up and moving over to the parlor. In addition, the cows are never away from their food or water for very long.


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July is National Ice Cream Month

July 10 ice cream photoIn 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. He recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by over 90 percent of the nation’s population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

The International Ice Cream Association (IICA) encourages retailers and consumers to celebrate July as National Ice Cream Month. In 2015, National Ice Cream Day will be Sunday, July 19.

About 10.3 percent of all the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the nation’s dairy industry.

Read more at the International Dairy Foods Association web site

For great ice cream and dairy recipes search the National Dairy Council web site. 

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Hoard’s Dairyman: Words of advice for automated milking


Abby Bauer, Hoard’s Dairyman Associate Editor writes about Kiefland Holsteins in southeastern Minnesota who installed its first robotic milkers in 2011, and the family has learned a great deal in the past four years. Chad Kieffer recently spoke at the Precisino Dairy Conference. Read below or the article here.

Chad Kieffer is a dairy nutritionist and part owner of his family’s dairy farm, Kiefland Holsteins, in Utica, Minn. Four years ago, the farm replaced their outdated parlor with the installation of three robotic milkers; two years later, they added two more. Kieffer shared lessons his family learned since the installation of their automated milking system at the Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, Minn.

Their herd has adjusted very well to their new milking program, boasting a rolling herd average of 29,000 pounds of milk per cow. While there may be a stigma that robot herds are not high producing, Kieffer feels otherwise. “Multiple herds are over 100 pounds of milk per cow per day with robots,” he said. “It can be done successfully.”

The farm also utilizes a robotic feed pusher, which Kieffer says is low maintenance and saves energy. “It has also proven successful in improving feed intake,” he said.

As for footbaths, Kieffer has found it best to put them in crossovers than rather in return lanes.

Kieffer offered these other keys to robot success:

  • Maximize milkings per hour and milkings per day, while minimizing robot downtime.
  • Remove slow and inefficient cows, including those that are slow milking or perpetual “fetch” cows.
  • Minimize robot failures. On their farm, they aim for less than five per robot per day.
  • Reduce milking preparation time by keeping cows clean and singing udders.
  • Optimize milking time by assuring all mechanical aspects of the robots are working.
  • Start with the right barn layout for smooth cow movement.
  • Have a passion for cows or have employees that do.
  • Identify the best fit ration, and work with a knowledgeable team to help get you there.
  • Maintain open communication among owners and employees, and strong management skills of both cows and people.
  • Learn how to do maintenance repairs on your own, and build a strong relationship with your dealer for technical support.

Kieffer encourages producers to “think milk per hour and milk per robot.” He also said to search for hidden areas where improvements can be made and focus on the details to best achieve success.

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Lely Adds Three Summer Interns!

Team Lely

As Lely continues to expand and grow they have decided to add three interns in different departments for the summer. Two interns, Xavier Drake and E.J. Schroder, work at the Lely North America headquarters in Pella, IA partaking in a 10-week internship that started June 1st, 2015 and will conclude August 7th, 2015. The off- campus internship will last a bit longer with the end date falling on August 21st.

July8Stephanie HeindlStephanie Heindl is a FMS (Farm Management Support) intern working with Gaylen Guyer. She attends the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and plans to graduate in the spring of 2017. The key area of focus during her time with Lely will be on milk quality. She will spend the bulk of her time talking with current Lely robot users about milk quality. This will help Lely target the top 10 percent of dairy farmers who produce the highest quality of milk. Stephanie learned of Lely through a family friend and is finding her time with Lely to be very rewarding. Already, she feels that she has grown as a person in a positive way within the internship program, while expanding her dairy knowledge.

July8EJ SchroderE.J. Schroder is an accounting and human resources intern working with Jerry Bacon in Pella, IA. He attends Central College and also plans on graduating in 2017. E.J.’s duties include various types of invoicing in all sectors of Lely, including dairy, turf, and freight. In addition, he mails and files packing lists as well as helping with expense reports and other accounting specific projects. Accounting is his primary focus in the internship so far, but he does help on the HR side when a need arises. E.J. learned of the opportunity with Lely through Central College and is most surprised that everything he has done while at Lely has not yet been taught to him in the classroom.

July8Xavier DrakeXavier Drake joined the team as a marketing intern working with Bellana Putz at the Pella, IA location as well. He attends A.I.B. College of Business and plans to graduate in the spring of 2016. Xavier’s key area of focus is to expand the Lely brand and support the sales team. His current duties include helping the current marketing staff in their day-to-day activities and supporting the department in preparation for upcoming events. Xavier also provides data analysis and current database updates as well as helping out on the current social media marketing initiatives. He learned of this opportunity through mutual friends and has been most surprised by the amount of hands on experience with the role. Xavier also speaks highly of Lely saying, “You are treated as an employee and not just an intern”.

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When being organic isn’t enough – from Country Guide


Helen Lammers-Helps writes in Country Guide about Martin de Groot who operates an organic dairy in Moorefield, Ontario. With the milk from their 60-cow, mostly Holstein herd, de Groot, his wife Ineke Booy and their family make their Mapleton’s Organic line of ice creams and fresh and frozen yogurts in their on-farm dairy at Moorefield, shipping their winter surplus through Harmony Organic Dairy Products. A couple years ago de Groot added Lely robots. Read an excerpt below or the entire article here.

What they sell is much more, however, including a way of farming that has become a top priority for their customers, coupled with a policy of transparency that lets those customers roam the farm at will.

But that doesn’t mean he’s inefficient.

Two years ago when de Groot built a new barn, for instance, he chose a Lely robotic milking system for maximum cow comfort. “With a voluntary milking system, the cow can get milked when she wants to… most of them choose to be milked every six to seven hours,” he explains.

Yet it also means he can capture reams of data to help his herd management, making it easier to track heat cycles and mastitis, for example. And after 35 years, de Groot himself is freed from milking, so he can allocate his time where it pays the most.

De Groot’s cows do seem the epitome of relaxation as they chew their cuds while lounging on the compost bedding pack in the free-stall barn. But that bedding not only boosts cow comfort, it boost efficiency too, generating heat from the composting process to keep the barn warm in winter, explains de Groot.  July7PostMapleton-Organic-dairycow-008

Although the compost bedding pack isn’t common in Canada, it’s popular in Europe where there is more concern about greenhouse gas emissions, says de Groot. The aerobic composting process ties up the nutrients and prevents greenhouse gases from forming, which also means there is minimal smell.

Another co-comfort feature of the barn is the flexible feeding fence. The plastic uprights move with the cows allowing for access to the feed while preventing neck abrasions.

Cows also have access to a Luna Lely cow brush which allows them to get a good back scratch. They use it several times a day, making for a happier, healthier, more productive herd, says de Groot.

Read the entire article here.


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