Three producers milking using robots, each with less than one year of experience, were elated with their purchase.

Optimism was in the air as three robotic milking dairy producers took the stage at a panel concluding today's Tri-State Robotic Milking Seminar in Belmont, Wis. The meeting gave a background on the positives and negatives of robotic milkers, first from extension agents David Kammel, University of Wisconsin, and Larry Tranel, Iowa State University.

David Kammel explained that when laying out a robotic barn (he has been part of some himself), the first step is brainstorming all the wants and needs of the producer in a new barn. From there, a budget can be made; some wants (and even needs) may be stripped but it can still make the new setup a profitable enterprise.

The goals on most robotic milking farms are to reduce labor, add milk, lower stress (for both cows and people), and have the ability to manage cows individually. Kammel reminded us that we want to maximize the use of a new robot, just like maximizing the utilization of any other parlor.

Tranel asked the audience of 50 dairy producers and cooperative fieldmen whether milk will go up or down with the installation of a robot. What about somatic cell count? Will milking frequency go up or down?

It depends on the dairyman, Tranel concluded. If you're milking 3x already, milk may actually go down. If you're milking 2x, it will likely go up. Robots have the ability to provide milk quality with the top 20 percent of herds. But then Tranel explained that extremes also occur. One Iowa herd had a 43 percent surge in milk production with 70 cows, but a Wisconsin herd actually lost 10 to 12 percent.

Firsthand experience
After hearing from the experts, the crowd was eager to hear from three producers currently milking cows using AMS. They were all at different stages of use. Matt and Jolene Nierling of Decorah, Iowa, are the first family in the country to use a GEA Farm Technolgies M1 robotic system. That system expects to be marketable very soon, as the Nierlings are the first test herd.

At one year of experience, and just coming off warranty, was Jack Wiegel, South Wayne, Wis. He was very happy with his first year of using four Lely robots. His only gripe is that he had two left-turn and two right-turn robots. He wished he had thought earlier to make them all the same way for the cows, so retraining wasn't necessary if they traded pens.

Brad Kremer, Pittsville, Wis., has also been using robots for a year. His transformation from a tie stall to a two-robot, sand-bedded free stall was an initial shock for his cows, but he sums up the experience in one line, "I have two kids and didn't have to wake up at 3 a.m. for the first time on Christmas. That alone was worth more than $10,000." He is very happy with his decision and is thinking about doubling the barn with two more DeLaval robots.