When we started milking in our robotic milking facility, we were fetching cows that hadn’t come up to milk on their own seven to eight times per day. The cows had previously been milked three times a day in the parlor, and we had a well-producing herd. We did not want the herd to crash or lower our milk production too much with the move, even though we knew we would lose some milk volume during the transition. So, we fetched cows frequently for a very long time. We could not wrap our heads around just getting out of the barn and letting the ladies figure it out. But, over time, we reduced fetching more and more.
We are three and a half years in and still adjusting. It was still hard to grasp the fact that we had to let cows figure out their milking times on their own, until one night the schedules got mixed up and no one showed up for work from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next day. I realized what had happened when I was getting ready for work and went into complete panic mode.
Thinking the list of cows overdue for milking would be astronomical, I quickly ran out the door for work. When I got to the farm and rushed into the office to see what the list looked like, I was dumbfounded when I saw that there were less cows on the list than normal.
Last year, we were fetching about three times during the day and once at night, so four times in 24 hours. Our milkings per cow were averaging about 2.4 times a day, and the cows were producing around 92 pounds of milk. We talked with consultants and decided it would be best to get completely out of the way.
In the past month, we reduced fetching to two main fetches plus an extremely quick and small third fetching period of just fresh cows for training purposes. We also pulled more starch out of the ration and added it to the pellet. After just a couple of days, we were averaging 2.65 milkings and around 95 to 96 pounds per day. This told us a lot. We are still trying to tweak the pellet, but things so far seem to be going very well.
Sometimes you just have to walk away and let them figure it out. It “only” took us 3.5 years to let our guard down enough to do it. But we did it and are happy with the choice so far!
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.