Sunnyville Farms

One of Sunnyville Farm’s dairy cows goes through the robotic milking process. Prior to milking, the brushes clean the udder and teats. They system also monitors the health of the cows. BRIAN KOELLER/Staff

DESHLER — A robotic milking system is not only saving a local dairy farm on labor expense, it’s also keeping the cows healthier and producing more milk.

Jerry Rosebrook, a partner with his brother Mike in Sunnyville Farm, said the operation installed the robotic milkers in December of 2014, and it almost immediately paid dividends.

“It saves a lot on labor, that’s the main reason we put them in,” Rosebrook said. “That way we’re not standing in the milking parlor twice a day.”

He said that has helped him and his brother tend to the other aspects of the farming operation, as well as provide better care for the cows.

In addition, because the cows can come to be milked whenever they are ready, it helps them.

“It’s increased our milk production somewhat, plus it’s better for the cow because she can give milk more often this way,” Rosebrook said. “It’s better for the cow’s health.”

A collar around each cow’s neck with an ID transponder is read by a camera system above the milking area. If it’s been four or more hours since the cow was last milked, then the robotic system will begin the process of milking. If it’s been less, the computer system reads this and automatically opens the stall doors to leave.

“A cow can come in as many as six times a day,” Rosebrook said. “We don’t have any that come in that often, but we have some that will come in five times.”

Rosebrook said some cows try to come through the stall before they are ready to give milk because a high-energy treat is given during the milking process as an extra incentive for the cow to come through the stall. Some cows try to take advantage of this.

“Cows are smarter than most people give them credit for,” Rosebrook said with a laugh.

In addition, the computer system analyzes the milk being produced, as well as the cow’s activity.

“It keeps track of a lot of things,” Rosebrook said. “If the rumination goes down, then you know she might be getting sick. It’ll take the temperature of the milk, too, and if it’s too high it’ll throw up a red flag, tell you which cow it is and you can check her in case she’s coming down with an infection in her udder.”

It can also alert the owners to when the cows are getting close to time to breed, and it cleans the cows’ udders during each milking.

He said each robot can handle about 50-60 cows per 24-hour period. Sunnyville Farm has about 100 head, so the two units are plenty for that operation.

Though the system startup can be expensive and had a bit of a learning curve, Rosebrook said it should pay for itself within seven years of the initial installation, and after a while the operation became routine.

While the milking system has helped lighten the load in some areas, Rosebrook stressed a dairy operation is still a seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year operation.

He also said the dairy farms are important to the area in helping the local feed providers, as well as producing nutritious milk, cheese and yogurt for consumers.

Sunnyville Farm also welcomes visitors and has a guestbook for them to sign. Rosebrook said visitors, in the form of exchange students, have come from as far away as Sweden and Japan.

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