Two robots make 84 happy cows
North Augusta dairy operation surprised by cow comfort advantages
NORTH AUGUSTA óIt was 4 p.m. on Victoria Day and Henry Oosterhof was not where he has been almost every day for the past 30 years. He knew it. And so did his brother Alex.
They were nowhere to be seen. They werenít in the milking parlour. They werenít over at the house. They werenít even on the farm. They looked at each other and smiled.
The Oosterhofs installed two of the latest Lely model robotic milkers on their North Augusta farm to milk 84 cows with their third partner, Henryís son, 24-year-old Steve. So on this sun soaked May 21, they were playing golf. "We looked at each other and smiled, knowing that our lives had changed a little bit," said Henry Oosterhof. "People will pull this out of context. We donít live at the golf course. We hurried home."
A little anxious, they went straight to the barn.
"We were in awe," Oosterhof said. "It was completely calm. Two cows were milking by themselves. A few cows were lined up for milking. It was what we had hoped for."
It seems that the time for the robotic milker has finally come. The Oosterhofs had heard the stories of farmers who had spent $250,000 on a robotic milker only to take it out because it didnít agree with their cows. But the new lines of robotic milkers are stunning farmers into submission.
Within three days in the new barn, all the cows were trained except one, said Oosterhof. Milk production has increased by two litres per cow per day to 37 litres and the somatic cell count has dropped, he said. Cows are now milking three to five times per day and there are no issues to worry about.
"Technology has improved over the last 10 years with lightning speed," he said. "Weíre appreciative of all those pioneers. A lot of lessons were learned. Thatís how I look at it."
The Oosterhofs held an open house on May 25 and have since received a few e-mails from visitors. "People said they had never seen cows so comfortable as in our barn. There were no bawling cows. They were lying down, chewing cud and they got up and accessed the robot on their own."
Several years ago, The Oosterhofs knew they needed a new barn when their milking cows pushed out their heifers and dry cows and they were boarding cows in three separate barns. They wanted leading technology for the next generation and began visiting dairy farms across Eastern Ontario, around Woodstock and even in Manitoba. They were leaning toward a parallel milking parlour.
"What changed our minds? When the cost was added up it was the same for a double-8 (parallel parlour) and a robot."
Then they visited dairy farmers in Manitoba. "They said (the robot) was great for their families." More time to spend with the kids. The robot was looking like a sweet deal. Then came the clincher: management software to provide the kinds of detailed information needed to improve herd management and a maintenance service package that included service technicians in the area. But you have to be a cattle person to make this work, he said, noting they have a keen interest in herd management and genetics.
Day one in the new barn was April 4. The Oosterhofs got help from 15 friends, mostly neighbours. They worked in two shifts around the clock to push the cows up to the robots and watch them as they walked freely around the 110 free stalls. The second day, the cows were led but not pushed. Even the mailman helped, putting in 20 hours. "He was incredible," Oosterhof said.
Today, cow comfort is king. The 196 ft. by 124 ft. high-ceiling well-lit barn includes waterbeds, cattle brush, wall-to-wall ventilation curtains, some Big Ass fans (the company is actually called Big Ass), and a choice of two milking stalls with Lely A4 robotic milkers.
"Itís tremendous," Oosterhof said. Golf, anyone?