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Why we chose robots: Cottonwood Ridge Dairy

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 06 November 2014

Brad, Monica, Brittany and Stephanie Nussbaum

Earlier this year, South Dakota’s first robotic dairy opened its doors for business, and the Nussbaum family couldn’t be happier with their new milking facility.



Brad and Monica Nussbaum have farmed for over three decades near Garretson, South Dakota, just shy of the Minnesota line. As daughters Brittany and Stephanie, both South Dakota State University graduates, showed intentions of returning to the dairy, the family decided to take the next step toward the future.

Prior to constructing a brand-new barn with two Lely robots, the Nussbaums milked 65 Holstein cows in a swing-four herringbone parlor. Now the herd size has nearly doubled, with 120 cows making it through the automated system each day.

Robots are also used for pushing feed and scraping manure in the tunnel-ventilated, slatted-floor barn. The building was designed to be free-flowing, allowing cows to eat, lie down and enter the milking unit as they please.

The cows are not the only ones enjoying the comforts of a new facility. For a family that enjoys spending the majority of their day close to the cows, an office, meeting area and kitchenette make this new barn their second home.

Since converting to robots, what has changed about the way you manage your dairy? What has not changed?
We are better able to focus on individual cow care, better time efficiency and health management. What hasn’t changed is our continual focus on cow comfort and producing a quality product.


What factors went into your decisions on how to design your barn?
We considered cow comfort, labor efficiency, climate control, waste management and overall efficiency of fans, electrical and water needs. We also sought advice from other robot dairy families that we toured, as well as from our nutritionist and veterinarian.

What is your favorite feature of the new facility?
Monica loves the robots: the Juno that pushes feed, the Discovery that cleans the floors and the milkers. Brad loves the whole facility. Brittany loves that the new facility allows for more family free time, and Stephanie loves the transition pen, which allows her to provide even better individual care for fresh cows.

If you could go back and rebuild knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
We would have built round collection pens for better cow flow in training new heifers and put these pens over the slats for less hand-scraping. We would also include more bedding storage.

What are three points of advice you would give to someone considering robots for their dairy?
1. Tour as many other dairies as possible, even if they aren’t robot dairies. They can still provide a lot of great ideas.

2. Sit down and map it out. Make sure the design works for your operation. Everyone – even dealers – has great ideas, but the barn has to work for you and your operation.

3. Just do it. You will love it! PD


Brad and Monica Nussbaum, along with their daughters Brittany and Stephanie, are South Dakota’s first dairy farm to go robotic. Photo courtesy of Nussbaum family.

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Progressive Dairyman