“Luckily we installed a shower, brought a couch, and had beer in the fridge. It was a rough startup for people, but maybe it was better for the cows,” Clare said.
While they did have challenges at startup, Clare’s firm decision to milk only 81 in the previous barn proved to be a benefit.
“We culled the cows we wanted to in the tie-stall, and were left with udders that worked well with the robot,” Dean said.
The couple experimented breeding their Holsteins to Jerseys, followed by Brown Swiss for two years due to calving troubles. The decision sent their components up, but the inconsistency in genetics wasn’t something they thought about in terms of stall size.
“But we could immediately see the Jersey-bred cows would go through the gate system 30 times a day, while many Holsteins struggled to get through three times a day,” Dean explained. “We could immediately see the Jersey-bred cows would go through the gate system 30 times a day, while many Holsteins struggled to get through three times a day.”
Trading electricity for labor
When they began penciling the robot facility’s equipment and costs, Marshik and Palmquist came to the realization they were trading payroll expenses for a bigger electricity bill. Therefore, they wanted to be as efficient with electricity as possible while ensuring as little downtime as they could. They are now milking nearly 50 more cows with about the same amount of labor as before.
After looking into grant programs, they installed a wind turbine in 2008. It cost $67,000, but grants covered nearly 25% (the couple notes steel prices drove turbine cost much higher shortly after their installation). Two years of wind data allowed them to realize they could build a fan-free naturally cross-ventilated barn. Although they added a few high-efficiency fans later for the hottest days of the year, visiting them on a 75-degree day with 125 cows in the barn was a comfortable experience – with none of the fans running.
The couple also invested in the high-efficiency T8 lighting, which, after rebates and energy savings, cost the same as traditional freestall barn lighting. In their utility room, they have two vacuum pumps, two air compressors, and two water heaters. With two DeLaval Voluntary Milking Systems (VMS) for robots and 125 cows, they needed to ensure that everything is working at full capacity as much as possible.
Cows are fed pellets in the robot and a PMR (partial-mixed ration) in front of headlocks. All cows are in one pen.