Overall, there has been a 40 percent reduction in labor at Kiefland Holsteins since adding these technologies. In 2009, before the robotic milkers were installed the cost of labor was $2.22/cwt. of milk, then in 2012 it moved down to $1.89/ cwt., and for this year the farm is at $1.49/cwt.
Failure breeds success
For Mason Dixon Farms in Gettysburg, Pa., the motto has been, “success is optional, change is inevitable,” and as the first farm to receive the Innovative Dairyman of the Year award in 1999, they’ve been very adept at evolving.
“The only way to bring about that change… is to be bold and try new things, make changes,” said co-owner Doyle Waybright during his presentation. Mason Dixon Farms has been adept at pursing precision technologies.
Back in 2000, Waybright’s brothers went to Germany to look at a forage harvester, but they also saw some robotic units while visiting farms. After that experience and another visit to Europe, the farm jumped into robotic milking with a single unit in 2001 to experiment with for a few years. Then, in 2005, Mason Dixon Farms furthered its commitment to robotics with a barn that then housed 10 units. Now, Waybright is milking 1,050 cows with 20 robots.
Waybright relates that producers should, “Dare to succeed or even dare to fail. Success only comes about by the willingness to fail.”
Precision dairy has put more emphasis back on the cow, helping increase productivity and efficiency which, in turn, has made life easier on farmers, but it’s not all roses.
“It’s absolutely amazing some of these advancements, and some of them we should be a little skeptical of because they probably don’t do everything that we think or hope that they will do,” said Bewley.
It also can be overwhelming for producers to receive all of this data after years of using visual indicators to make management decisions. For instance, with heart rate monitoring, it is interesting to have that data, but Bewley questions how useful is it.
“In reality, I think what we need to do is take a bit more of a balanced approach towards precision dairy technology,” said Bewley.
Researching and working with these technologies has given Bewley some “gray hairs,” but working with farmers has helped him gain a better perspective of actually applying those tools to practical purposes.
Farms like Kiefland Holsteins and Mason Dixon Farms have effectively utilized these technologies. Both will continue moving forward in implementing these systems to aid in the success of their farms.
“New technologies are sustainable for dairy farms,” Waybright says.
“The use of cutting-edge technologies can be profitable for a dairy farm. It takes patience and perseverance to find ways to be successful at the use of them,” he concludes.