click image to zoomLucas SjostromClare can check on the robotic milking units and solar panels from her smartphone, whether she’s in he farmyard or across the country. The barn is built to “feed first,” where cows must enter the headlock area before moving into the robot pen, and then can return to the freestalls. The barn also has alley scrapers to minimize cow disruption and labor. Manure falls through slats and is transferred to a lagoon – another upgrade the farm needed when they were evaluating options.
In a robot facility, bulk tank washes often trigger the washing of robots, too. Marshik and Palmquist knew they needed a lot of hot water, fast, so the put their water heaters in-line to make the process faster and more efficient.
The six automatic air-filled curtains that keep heat in on cool days each use as much energy as a 60-watt light bulb, Clare said.
They also brought in 3-phase power, which they made financially feasible by working with their power company and signing a contract for future power usage.
One final addition included a solar array, which cost $56,000 (nearly 50% was covered by grants), although both the wind turbine and solar panels had additional grant-writing fees. They optimized their panels by building a machine shed with a pitch that matched the best angle to catch sun for their farm – saving them from taking up land space to install the panels. Clare can also watch the production of each of the individual 44 panels’ micro-inverters on her phone.
Staying for supper
One of the biggest changes at the dairy is flexibility. Marshik and Palmquist reflected how enjoyable it is to stay for the meal portion of weddings. Although work remains for them when they get home, there isn’t a set time they need to be back.
Should the next generation want to expand, the barn wasbuilt to mirror itself in a westward addition. They built their office and “control center” on the west side of the barn to be able to look into the current and future robot installs. The center looks like a darkroom, fitted with tinted windows, and lights are kept off because tours and workers distract cows coming in to be milked.
Dean gets up around 4 or 5 a.m. and spends about 2.5 hours in the robot area, cleaning, fetching cows, and sending heifers that are due within 10 days through the gates. The process repeats at 4 p.m.
Clare comes out at 6:30 a.m. to check the list of cows that need attention. “Or, as Dean says, I come out to bug him,” Clare joked. “He usually already knows about 75% of them, but sometimes, between the activity monitors, milk production, milking intervals, feed consumption, and conductivity reports, I can find a cow that he hasn’t noticed.” Then, she feeds the calves and heifers on the other side of the farm.