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.
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.”
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.