We have many goals here at the farm. First and foremost, though, is cow comfort. We want to make sure our cows are healthy and comfortable. After all, happy cows live a long life and produce high quality milk.
We have come a very long way in the last 82 years. We went from hand milking one cow at a time to a 4-stall hand milking station that soon incorporated milking machines. From there, my family built a small parlor and through the years, added on to it to milk more cows. We milked cows twice a day until 2009 when we moved all our milking cows from pasture into a freestall barn. This was a much better environment for the cows, our family, and our farm help. In 2019, we built on to the freestall barn and added robots to milk cows.
As we made improvements to facilities, we also made improvements with genetics. We closed our herd in 1971, which means we have not bought a cow to add to our herd since then and have only grown from our own replacement heifers. With genetic matings, a controlled climate, and cow comfort taking huge strides on our farm, the quality and longevity of the cow improved as well. Udder conformation, feet, legs, and milk production are just a few of the many metrics that have become better over time.
In 2009, once we moved the girls into the freestall barn and were able to milk three times a day, the overall herd average increased significantly. Not long after this transition we were able to obtain a daily average between 85 and 95 pounds. As the years went on, genetics continued to get better and cows were housed in the freestall barn for a few lactations, meaning they were a few lactations removed from living out in the elements and dealing with heat stress. At this point, the ladies were averaging around 100 pounds a cow per day most of the year.
When robots came into play, we did it not for milk production but more for labor issues. We knew ahead of time that we would drop in milk production, and that was okay, but we had the goal of possibly returning to the same production level eventually. The robot world is much different, though. Cows go to be milked voluntarily, and while some may be milked four or five times a day, others might only go one or two times a day.
We had a high averaging herd when milking in the parlor three times a day, and there were a few outstanding cows that would hit 200 pounds every so often. It was always incredible to see and know how far the farm has come. It’s almost an unbelievable feeling now, since we have shattered an all-time record. We had a third lactation cow hit 247 pounds in one day. And that is milking with robots! She has continued to keep our eyes glued to her, watching her production. Although that was almost 12 days ago, she is keeping up the awesome numbers. In the last 2 weeks, she has given over 200 pounds of milk on four different days. What an incredible animal!
Not even ten years ago did we think that this was imaginable, but these ladies keep surprising us. Our number one motto has been then same from the very beginning, and that is cow comfort. We want these girls to have the best life possible.
Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.