Arentsen Dairy of Albers, Illinois, currently milks its 110 cows with two Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking systems. Seven years ago, the Arentsens decided Lely robots were the way to go to reduce labor requirements and enhance their operation's cow comfort. Phillip Arentsen retrofitted Lely robots into his dairy's existing three-row, free stall barn and hasn't looked back since.Robotic Milkers Cut Labor Requirements
In the old parlor system, Arentsen Dairy required six workers milking cows three times per day, meaning that someone was in the barn almost 24/7. Phillip will tell you that Lely automation has improved his overall quality of life. He now has a much more flexible schedule and can do chores on his own.
"The main reason we went with robots seven years ago was labor. Before robots, we were out in the barn nonstop, never getting away. Now I can work here by myself for seven hours and everything will be done," Phillip said.
Arentsen Dairy has significantly improved cow comfort as a result of Lely robots. With free cow traffic, each cow chooses when she eats, drinks, gets milked or lays down. Phillip looks at the Lely Time for Cows (T4C) management system at least twice per day to monitor his herd. He reviews the cows' rumination data every morning before he mixes feed to determine exactly what they need. The Arentsens' herd is currently averaging at their co-op's set quota of 91 lbs. per cow per day.
Arentsen Dairy also has the Lely M4USE system in its robot room. This set of buckets is used to catch and save dump milk to be used for feeding calves. The robot room also consists of a sunken floor that is 18 inches lower than the Lely Astronaut A4s. This allows easy access to the robot's arm for maintenance as well as convenient viewing of cows milking in the robot box.
Automation Allows for Better Herd Management
The two Lely Astronaut A4s are set up in the head-to-tail configuration that allows for optimized herd sorting. If a cow requires extra care, the robots will automatically divert her into the fetch pen. While the dairy downsized the herd from 240 to 120 with the switch to automation, the barn's design left room for growth and Phillip has plans to expand to up to eight robots in the future.
Phillip's milking robots also feature the industry-exclusive Gravitor stainless steel weigh floor that provides the ability to monitor each individual cow's weight for improved herd management. If a cow loses a significant amount of weight, Lely T4C will alert Phillip to give her special attention. Lely robots allow for minimal cow touches at Arentsen Dairy and occur only when necessary for optimized performance.
Arentsen Dairy also features a Lely Juno Flex automatic feed pusher. Before installing this robot, Phillip would push feed at least ten times per day with a skid loader. Today, the Lely Juno takes care of the tedious task of feed pushing and gives Phillip the chance to focus on other aspects of the farm.
Lely Calm Improves Calf Welfare
The dairy's calf barn houses around 45 calves and features ventilation that allows fresh air to flow into the building every 20 minutes. The calves are placed in individual pens for the first four to five days of their lives. Once they start coming to people for milk they are moved into a large pen with other calves where they are allowed to drink when they choose from the Lely Calm automatic calf feeder. Each calf can drink up to six times per day at a little under two quarts per feeding.
"Calf size has really improved since we started using the calf feeder. They're able to feed more often," Phillip said.
Phillip has noticed a definite advantage with heifers that were raised on the Lely Calm when it comes to training them to milk in the Lely Astronaut A4. Last fall, he purchased 20 heifers from a different farm that weren't raised with an automatic calf feeder. He observed that his automatically-fed heifers picked up robotic milking much more quickly than the conventionally-fed heifers.
Phillip advises anyone who is considering milking robots to tour several dairies and combine other dairy producers' best ideas to use on their farms. Phillip is appreciative of the ongoing support he has received from his local Lely Center Arentsen Farm Sales & Services, Inc. and is grateful for their continued collaboration. He is proud to have a very efficient, completely family-run operation and looks forward to his future with Lely automation.
Want to learn how you can paint your barn red with Lely solutions like Phillip? Click below to learn more about Lely's wide portfolio of automated barn products!