Milking twice a day in their aging 81-cow tie-stall barn, Dean Marshik and his wife, Clare Palmquist, knew it was time for an upgrade.
click image to zoomLucas SjostromFrom their control center, Dean Marshik and Clare Palmquist can both virtually and physically check on their cows although the cows cannot see them. “One day, I decided we should check out some robots,” explained Dean, living as the fifth generation on his family’s Pierz, Minn., farm. Marshik and Palmquist are winners of the 2014 Dairy Sustainability Awards from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for their outstanding achievement in energy efficiency.
“I didn’t even know what robots were,” Clare admitted. But today, she’s the one with an app on her smartphone, allowing her to monitor the robot dashboard from anywhere she can find reception.
It was 2009, and the couple had been together for 16 years. Clare joined Dean on the farm in 1993, and they purchased the operation from Dean’s parents in 1999.
Clare, a self-described city girl and horse enthusiast, said she always envisioned herself in a rural environment, but dairy cows were never part of her dream. The two connected when Clare served as daycare provider for Dean’s son.
Once Clare joined the operation, she took over the calf and heifer area while Dean continued milking 81 cows, but no more.
“I refused to let him Milking twice a day in their aging 81-cow tie-stall barn, Dean Marshik and his wife, Clare Palmquist, knew it was time for an upgrade.switch in the tie-stall, so 81 is all we ever had,” Clare said.
But, as they began to think about needed upgrades and what the next generation might want in improvements, robots were the only logical decision for Dean.
“Our bodies couldn’t do it all, and robots are more attractive to the next generation,” he said.
While they don’t know who the next generation might be, both their son, serving with the military in Japan, and current or future farm employees are potential applicants.
click image to zoomLucas SjostromAlthough the upfront cost was higher, solar panels on their shed (upper left), a wind turbine (between two silos), and high efficiency lighting paid for itself between grants, rebates and energy efficiency. The facilities upgrade started in 2010, and milking in the new 144-stall freestall barn with robots began on Feb. 1, 2011. At the time, industry advice was to take it slow in introducing cows to robots, rather than pushing them through. That advice meant they essentially lived in their new barn for 2 months.