The decision to automate

Written by Christine Bush
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“I have to be honest, it was awful. It really was,” he says. “There were points where I wanted to quit. We were just so doggone tired. About a month and a half into it, I was just about ready to put them back into the parlor. Honestly, it was terrible.“

The family worked, slept and ate in the milking area. Mark had his own farm to tend to, but he took time out to help Mike and Heather.

“One day, we couldn’t get the door to the office opened,” Mike says. “We thought the dog was lying against it. We looked in and we saw my brother Mark curled up and asleep with his head on his jacket on the floor.”

The Haineses looked to their setup consultant for support. 

“I told them that they are not the only ones,” says Paul Berdell with Robotic Milking Solutions. “Some people think it’s just them. It makes everyone feel better if they know that they are not in it alone. I let them know that other owners have gone through it.”

Berdell consulted with the family through the entire startup period and he says that he spent 170 hours working with and coaching the family.
Berdell says the Haines’ startup time was a little longer than usual, but that they adapted themselves to the system quickly. Other dairymen, he says, have a harder time breaking with tradition.

“Some farmers have been dairying a certain way for so many years,” Berdell says.  “They are very stringent about what they do. Transitioning to not having cows milk for 16 hours is hard for many to do. They have habits, and those habits are hard to break, and people struggle with losing the person-to-cow contact.”

The Haineses worked hard to train the cows to come into the milking station.

“We had one cow that still had to see Mike before she would walk into the pen,” Heather says. “Some of the cows are like that. They remember that when they see you it’s time to milk.”
The Haineses also noticed a pecking order of sorts in the freestall barn.

“It’s like watching kids at the drinking fountain at school,” Mike says.  “The bullies are always going to butt their way in, and then everyone else stands there and waits their turn.”

Once the family got through the startup process, they watched the cows establish a routine. The cows tend to slow down their milking around 3 or 4 a.m. and sleep until about 7 a.m. A positive change the Haineses discovered was the amount of milk cows were giving. When they started with the machines, they had 14 or 15 cows milking 100 pounds per day; four months later, Mike doubled that with 30 cows milking 100 pounds per day. 

Bontrager has been the Haines’ field representative for three years. He says Mike changed after the robotics machines were installed.

“Before the machines went in, he was dragging,” Bontrager says. “He was hardly getting any sleep. He was always tired when I saw him. Today, he is a lot more relaxed, and he talks more now.”

Mike agrees with Bontrager. He says that before robotic milking, he found it hard to relax because he always felt like he had to get chores done at a certain time.

“Before, if we were off by an hour, it would screw up the whole day. It was terrible,” Mike says. “Now, we don’t even feed the cows at a precise time. If I need to leave early, I can mix feed three or four hours early and fill up the bunks and leave.“

The new system at the dairy is also making an impact on their boys.