March 21 2019 09:50 AM

Two years after we started planning, our first robotic milking systems have arrived.

We finally placed two robots in our new main robot barn this week. A little over two years ago at the Western Dairy Management Conference, I was sitting at a table talking to two dairymen from Wisconsin who had just given presentations on their robotic milking facilities.

I drew a sketch of our southeastern U.S. conventional freestall barn that houses our 385 milking cows. I asked, “Can I convert this barn to robotics? How would you renovate it most effectively?”

My two new Wisconsin pals along with some DeLaval robotic consultants went to work sketching on cocktail napkins. Forty sketches later, we had several ideas that we agreed might work.

One of the speakers at the conference stated that changing from conventional to robotic milking is a two- to five-year endeavor. I now concur with that statement. It will be almost three years from the time we wondered if robotic milking was the direction we needed to follow until the time the cows first enter the robots.

The map to our robotic barn looks something like this:

The idea (robots) ⟶ family agreeing on the idea ⟶ independent financial consultant saying the idea was feasible ⟶ educating our lenders about dairy robotics ⟶ engineers helping us to finalize planning ⟶ construction (we are at this stage) ⟶ converting from parlor to robotic milking ⟶ hopefully us saying this was a great decision!

So, here we are. Two robots are in place, with three more robots to come. The cement is poured and the building structures and roof are in place. The walls and other equipment are left to complete. There is a lot to do, and we are learning a lot.

Best of all is seeing the fourth generation of our farm step up and help with design and implementation. It is because of them wanting to dairy that we have taken the leap to robotics.

Caitlin and Mark Rodgers

Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. Their “Father and Daughter Dairy Together” column appears every other Thursday on HD Notebook. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.