Ben Vanderbilt: A lean, robot herd-managing machine

Posted by Team Lely on Oct 21, 2014
Team Lely

This article recently appeared in Progressive Dairyman

Most people consider searching Craigslist for a bike, couch or even a roommate. Not many can claim that an advertisement on this website is how they began a career as a manager for a 500-cow robot-milking herd.

Similarly, it’s not typical for a dairy owner to hire a new herd manager who has very little cow experience. For SwissLane Dairy Farms in Alto, Michigan, this is exactly what happened. And it was a perfect fit.

In 2011, SwissLane Dairy Farms, a 2,000-cow operation, had plans to shift about 500 cows to a new freestall barn with eight automatic milking units. In looking for a herd manager for this new facility, the owners placed an ad on Craigslist and came across candidate Ben Vanderbilt.

Ben’s cow experience was limited, but his manufacturing experience as a production supervisor for an aerospace facility was promising. The owners of SwissLane Dairy Farms were not only looking to become more labour-efficient through utilizing their new robots, they were also looking for someone who could think “lean.” Ben Vanderbilt was the man for the job.

From the start of Ben’s career at the dairy farm nearly three years ago, he has acquired “cow sense” through the owners’ mentoring and has brought a wealth of knowledge from his five-year manufacturing career and put it to work at SwissLane Dairy Farms.

“The way I put it, I was manufacturing electronic circuit cards before, and here we’re manufacturing milk. The way you manage and utilize robots is similar; hitting production numbers is all quite the same,” Ben says.

The manager says his on-farm management style has been heavily influenced by his past. “The company I came from was very lean-driven, so much that we had our own lean department with about seven people overseeing it.

This article was written by Lely Marketing Coordinator, Torie Noellsch. Read more.

Tags: Dairy Producers, Farm Management, Live Life Lely, Robotic Milking