When one visits the Koester family farm in far southwestern Indiana, they'll notice a lot of things. For one, they'll see that the sprinklers run constantly on very hot days to keep the cows comfortable. They'll also note the cows' chunky red necklaces (aka activity monitors) and lastly, they'll spot the robots positioned along the walls of the freestall barn.
Since they moved their dairy farm to its current location just one week before Christmas in 2012, Diamond K Dairy has jumped on the precision dairy technology train – and they aren't looking back.
Diamond K Dairy, owned by the Koester family of Wadesville, Ind., milks just over 200 cows with four Lely robots. In addition to the robots, the cows are also sporting activity monitors and have their feed pushed frequently by an automated feed pusher.
After installing the robots, the Koesters have observed significant labor savings. They wanted to keep labor within the family and make the farm an inviting place for relatives to come back to if they desired. In addition to everyone in the family being involved with the farm, they employ one full-time and one part-time worker. They originally wanted just one robot in addition to the planned parlor to handle any overflow cows, but "plans changed" and the Koesters are very happy with the results they have achieved.
The robots aren't the only things that have the Koesters smiling. The cows' activity monitors have also saved a heap of headaches . . . and money. Not only has their feeding program benefited, but many other things have gotten better as well. For example, they have improved reproduction rates and greatly enhanced their ovsynch program; after using the monitors for nearly three years, the Koesters are now administering 90 percent fewer prostaglandin injections.
It's no secret that installing precision dairy technologies comes at a very high cost. Then again, most things worth doing are not easy. For the Koesters, and many other dairies that have made the switch to automation, the benefits were well worth the expense.
The author is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, majoring in agricultural marketing communications. She was the 27th Hoard's Dairyman editorial summer intern.