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Progressive Events: Dairy producers tour seven robot farms, Lely NA headquarters

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 18 January 2017
Jersery herd enjoy their meal

As Old Man Winter blew into the upper Midwest in early December, a number of dairy producers flew in from the East Coast, western U.S. and Canada to take part in Lely’s Journey Tour.

After landing and staying the night near the Twin Cities, the group boarded the bus to tour four dairies in southeast Minnesota and three in northeast Iowa before heading to the Lely North America headquarters at the end of the week.

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The first farm stop, Kelm Dairy in Fairbault, Minnesota, uses a unique 10-row barn with four automatic milking systems to maximize cow space within the available footprint for the barn on the existing dairy.

Josh Kelm

The Kelms, including Jerry and Colleen and their sons Josh and Jason, also continue to use their tiestall barn for milking, treating and freshening cows.

Down the road at Balzer Dairy in Owatonna, Minnesota, Rick and Cathy Balzer and their son, Scott, have two automatic milking systems milking 122 cows in a three-row freestall barn.

Rick and Scott Balzer

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The farm has a conveyor system to deliver dried manure solid bedding to the stalls once a day, which is then hand-raked across the stalls.

Schumacher Dairy Farms in Plainview, Minnesota, transitioned from shifting 120 cows twice daily through its 60-cow tiestall barn to a two-robot, three-row tunnel-ventilated freestall barn.

Schumachers Dairy

Milk production on this farm, owned by Gary and Barb Schumacher and their son and daughter-in-law Chad and Amy, jumped from 60 to 85 pounds per cow after three months of switching to robots.

Near Winona, Minnesota, Gary Sobeck, his brother Jim, son Chris and nephew Alex have a split six-row barn with outside feed alleys, four automatic milking systems (two per pen) on one end and a drover’s lane down the middle.

Chris and Gary SobeckTheir 230-cow herd is averaging 92.8 pounds per cow per day.

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Iowa’s Dairy Center, located just south of the Northeast Iowa Community College campus in Calmar, Iowa, opened in 2000 to include an educational facility and working dairy farm with a parlor to milk 280 cows. In 2013, the barn was retrofitted to add two automatic milking systems milking 60 cows each.

A Jersey cow waits her tuen outside the automatic milking system

One robot is for Holsteins, and the other for Jerseys. The farm found a significant energy savings with the robots compared to the parlor due to the constant flow of cattle versus peak energy needs in the parlor.

Al and Sue Mensen built a new three-row tunnel-ventilated freestall barn with two automatic milking systems at County Line Farm in Dyersville, Iowa.

Sue and Al Mensen

The enhanced cow comfort and more opportunities for milking has the herd milking 22 percent more than it did in the old tiestall barn.

A rubber feed alley aids in heat detection as cows feel more sure-footed and display more estrus behavior in this area on the farm.

Brothers Chad and Brent Koopman renovated their family’s existing freestall barns at Koopman Dairy in Epworth, Iowa, to hold two automatic milking systems in what was the old holding pen and parlor.

Brent & Chad Koopman

In addition to touring each facility, the farm stops included brief presentations by Lely representatives to cover nutrition, barn design, system startup, computer reports and maintenance.

After seeing the equipment in action on farms, tour participants could see how the products were built at the company’s headquarters in Pella, Iowa, before departing for home.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The Jersey herd at Iowa’s Dairy Center in Calmar, Iowa, enjoys a freshly delivered meal. They enjoy the use of one automatic milking system while a similar-sized Holstein herd uses the other robot.

PHOTO 2: Josh Kelm, Kelm Dairy, Fairbault, Minnesota.

PHOTO 3: Rick and Scott Balzer, Balzer Dairy, Owatonna, Minnesota.

PHOTO 4: Chad and Jordyn Schumacher (Chad’s daughter) and Alan Martinson (Chad’s nephew), Schumacher Dairy Farms, Plainview, Minnesota.

PHOTO 5: Chris and Gary Sobeck, Sobeck Farms, Winona, Minnesota.

PHOTO 6: A Jersey cow waits her turn outside the automatic milking system at Iowa’s Dairy Center in Calmar, Iowa.

PHOTO 7: Sue and Al Mensen, County Line Farm, Dyersville, Iowa.

PHOTO 8: Brent and Chad Koopman, Koopman Dairy, Epworth, Iowa. Photos by Karen Lee.

Karen Lee
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