A NEW day in the life

A while back I wrote about what a cow’s typical day looks like on our farm. Now, for about 800 of those cows, the days look a little bit different. With the addition of the robotic milkers, our cows have a much more leisurely lifestyle.

The main change in our cows’ daily routine is that they don’t have set times to be in the parlor anymore. Now, they can walk to be milked whenever they want during the day. If the cows don’t go up to the milker by themselves, they are put on a list called the “fetch” list, and someone guides them to the robotic milker. Aside from that, they have total freedom as to when they go to the milking machine. The cows have even more time for eating, resting and socializing than when we had them on the parlor milking schedule.

Instead of the cows being away from their pens for around three hours per day, they are now in their pens walking around constantly. Because we renovated our freestall barn to accommodate the robotic milking machines, the cows still have all the same housing perks they had before — fans keeping them cool in the summer, curtains that go up and keep them warm in the winter and constant shade and protection from the outdoor elements. Of course, they still have their free-choice buffet all day long.

The other routines the cows have had are also the same as they were before. Every Tuesday, the veterinarian comes for herd health, where he does consulting, checks the cows for pregnancies, does ultrasounds and makes note of anything we need to be aware of. Twice a year the cows get their hooves trimmed to keep their feet healthy, so that they can continue to  get to their feed, water and the robotic milker easily and comfortably.

So far, the cows have been happier than ever with the new robotic milking machines and their new lifestyle!

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Robotic milkers and employees working together on the farm

Now that we’ve added the robotic milking machines, a lot of people think we don’t need people around the barns because the machines take care of all the milking. Even with thirteen robotic milkers on the farm, we still need people outside in the barns pretty much around the clock.

Every night we have one or two people out in the barns working. Small adjustments need to be made to the milkers, like tightening hoses or replacing milker cups if a cow kicks the unit off. Also, the lenses that locate where the cows’ teats often need to be wiped clean.

The robots’ computer system is available on a mobile phone app, so whenever something happens and the robotic milker isn’t working correctly, a mobile notification will be sent to the employee working at the time. The employee can go directly to the machine that needs adjusting and fix the issue. On farms that have one or two robotics milkers, there isn’t a need to have someone in the barns constantly, so this app is key.

Even though the robots are automatically milking the cows, there is a certain percentage of cows that need to be “fetched.” Cows on the “fetch” list are ones that don’t walk themselves to the robotic milker. These cows tend to be at the end of their lactation, so they aren’t milking very much anymore. They are starting to dry up and preparing to have a calf. The “fetch” list is generated on the computer, and is based on the cows who haven’t been milked for a certain number of hours. Once they are at the robotic milking machine and have the grain offered to them, the “fetch” cows are more than happy to be milked. They just need a little bit of motivation!

Aside from checking the robots and making sure they’re doing their job, there are other things happening at night, too. Cows may be calving, and barn alleys need to be scraped. We are consistently milking around 800 cows with the robotic milkers. There is always plenty of work to be done around the farm!

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A different farm tour

We give a lot of farm tours every year. From restaurant owners, to cheese makers, to people in other industries, to dairy farmers from other countries, we enjoy sharing our farm with people from all different types of backgrounds. For the past 20 years, I’ve pretty much stuck to the same routine for all of our tours.

The route I take on the tours hasn’t changed much over the years, but now with the robotic milkers installed, we have something completely new to show our guests. The robots are still new and exciting for all of us here at the farm, so it’s a lot of fun for me to explain. It’s cutting-edge technology, and we’re very proud to be an innovative farm in the area that can show this new technology and advancement in the dairy industry.

One of the things tour guests tend to be the most surprised about is how quiet the barns are. They look around and see a very calm and comfortable environment — cows laying in their waterbeds, eating at their “buffet,” or walking up to the robot to be milked.

On a lot of the tours, one of the favorite stops is the maternity pen. Every once in a while, people can see a cow give birth to a calf, and it’s always the highlight of the tour when that happens!

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A challenging year ahead

January is always a trying month as we work on finalizing our budget for the upcoming year. This is when a crystal ball would come in handy! Our process usually involves creating a first-round of the budget and then deciding what we can cut from there.

Looking back, 2017 was an interesting year. And, looking forward, unfortunately the 2018 milk-price forecast isn’t that great. The milk price hasn’t been horrible by any means — especially compared to what we saw a few years ago — but it seems like the prices for everything else has gone up. For example, with all of our recent construction, we had to buy a new manure pump. We bought almost the exact same pump back in 2009, and this past year, it was almost double the cost of what it was then. This is the reality of what farmers are dealing with right now.

As with every year, the plan is to use as much of our own feed as we can instead of having to buy feed, but in January, it is very difficult to predict what the fields will yield nine months from now. We look at the additives (vitamins and minerals) we put in the feed and decide if we can live without something for a little while without sacrificing any milk quality and animal health. Both are always a priority, so before we make cuts, we make sure they stay the same.

We also try to take advantage of every discount we can find. Buying seeds early, buying other items in bulk, paying up front for purchases… A lot of companies offer discounts for doing these kinds of things.

When it comes to budgeting, we believe in starting with the big picture and then cutting it down. With the huge addition of robotic milkers last year, we have to be especially conscious of our budget plans for 2018. But, I have all the confidence that we will make it work, just like we do every year.

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Farming in the cold Wisconsin winter

A few weeks ago, we were joking about the fact that this winter we’ve had maybe a total of five inches of snow. An inch here, two inches there. And then we finally had our first real snow of the year that left a completely white cover.

It was great to see that the snow didn’t impact the robotic milkers, but the extreme cold has been more of a challenge. Things start freezing, and we’re still learning what to do and how to handle it. During the last cold snap, some of the underground lines that carry liquids froze. It took about a day of running hot water through the lines to get them all thawed out and running again.

After we thawed all of the lines, we were able to insulate them. Surprisingly, snow itself works as a great insulator. We also piled straw onto the lines and wrapped some of the concrete casings around the lines in insulation blankets.

During the cold snaps, we make sure there is extra heat in the robot rooms to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. We also make sure the cords that remove the milking unit from the cow stay thawed. We learned that ice builds up on the cords on the robotic milkers located on the south side of our barn.

Even though it’s been over six months since the first few robots were up and running, we are still learning how to manage their quirks.

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Some changes are bigger than others

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we moved from our tie-stall barn to the milking parlor, but it was 19 years ago. And now we have another huge move under our belts – going from the milking parlor to the robotic milking machines.

Even though they were 19 years apart with different technology, the transitions from one way of milking to another had a lot of similarities, including a lot of emotion being involved.

Stanchion barn, red barn

With the milking parlor in 1998 and the robotic milkers in 2017, we embraced new technology. We did our research, including visiting other farms to see if the systems would work for us. We put in longer hours and exerted all of our energy into preparing for the new systems. There was an excitement in the air, with a little bit of angst and sadness mixed in. Even though we did our due diligence, there is always the unknown.

For as much time as we put into making sure transitions would go smoothly, for as much work as we’d put in, it’s literally an overnight transition. Not only is it from one day to the next, it’s one hour to the next. That part of the show is over, and we’re on to the next one.

Milking parlor, robotic milkers

Now, I walk past the milking parlor every day – my office is connected to the parlor – and I look in, and it’s just dark. For over 19 years, that parlor ran every day, pretty much around the clock, only being shut down for cleaning. And now, it’s quiet. When I walk by, I am grateful for all the milk our cows made there and for the employees who milked our cows there. They all helped us get where we are today.

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2017 Wrap Up

2017 was a really big year here at Majestic Crossing Dairy. It’s been exciting – we’re starting a new chapter on our farm and have set ourselves up for the future. 2016 was a year of planning. 2017 was a year of action.

The year began with abnormal weather in January. Instead of getting snow, we got a lot of rain. The ground thawed early and then re-froze. We had a wet spring which delayed our planting, and we had to change our mindset to get ready for a harvest that could potentially not produce as much feed as we needed for the cows. In that case, we would have had to purchase the feed to make up the difference.

Throughout the spring, we hosted several farm tours. We always appreciate having the opportunity to talk to other farmers, members of the community and different industries about what we do and why we do it.

Summer weather was good to us, and this fall we ended up having one of the best years ever for harvest. Our farm is in a pocket that somehow avoided the flooding rains and damaging hail that other areas of the state experienced.

The big activity this year was our robot project – we redesigned our freestall barns to accommodate 13 new robotic milking machines. Over the course of seven months, we worked around construction crews, making sure our cow’s care never faltered while transitioning to a new chapter in our farm’s history.

As of November, all of the robots are up and running.

Lely Robotic Milking Unit

It’s been a long year. There was a lot of angst, stress, happiness, joy and anxiety, and on any given day, we were sometimes feeling this entire range of emotions. There was a lot of unknown. Our day-to-day activities have changed a lot from January 1 until now, but our core principles have stayed the same.

Once again, thank you to everyone who helped us through 2017. We wouldn’t be here today without our families, friends and community.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a great start to the New Year!

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Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center

Although Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, the state is rich in all aspects of agriculture. The agricultural industry brings $88.3 billion to the state every year. To get to that number, you have to have a huge amount of agricultural activity. From cranberries to ginseng to potatoes and beyond, Wisconsin seems to have it all. People don’t realize how diverse agriculture is in the state of Wisconsin.

To help people understand the industry that brings so much to their state, Wisconsin is building a state-of-the-art interactive education center. What began as the Wisconsin Agricultural Education Center has become the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center.

Not only will Farm Wisconsin be a good chance for dairy farmers to tell our story, but it is an opportunity for consumers to learn where their food is coming from. A lot of the time, they have no idea that it’s coming right from their own state!

Majestic Crossing Dairy is proud to be a part of Farm Wisconsin. Construction is underway and the center is on target to be finished in the first half of 2018 and open for visitors next summer. It’s amazing how quickly the construction is going. I drive by the construction site often, and I’m always surprised at what’s been added.

You can watch a live feed of the construction here, and be sure to follow Farm Wisconsin on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all of the progress. Visit the Farm Wisconsin website to contribute to the campaign. We are excited to visit the center when it’s finished to show everyone what Wisconsin is made of!


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All of the robots are up and running!

At the beginning of November, the last five robots went online. This was the third and final round of robots to be installed. All in all, this startup went very smoothly. There was a little bit of tweaking with the feedstuff that is put in front of the cows when they’re being milked, but as a whole, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect and how to help the cows transition. The cows have adapted really well to these milkers.

Now that all of the robots are up and running, we are still working through some of challenges of getting to know the different parts of the machines. One morning shortly after the last round of robots were running, the temperature dropped to around 12oF. It was a bit jarring to get down to those temperatures so early in November. The cold came on a Thursday night or Friday morning and we weren’t quite ready for it. My brother Darin was looking all over for heaters to put in the robot rooms.

The robot rooms and the office area for the robots have in-floor heating systems. The rooms aren’t heated using propane or gas. We will have a geothermal process that will take the heat from cooling the milk to be reused to heat the robot rooms and office area. When this first cold snap hit, that system wasn’t hooked up yet. Nothing ended up freezing, but it made for a really hectic morning!

Thanks again to all of our family, friends, neighbors and the agriculture community in our area for helping us get started and adjusted to this new chapter at Majestic Crossing Dairy.

Lely robotic milker unit

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Supporting the youth of the community

Growing up, my brother, sister and I were 4-H members and loved showing cattle at the Sheboygan County Fair. The fair was the perfect end to summer. Because 4-H helped shape me into the farmer I am today, we always do what we can to support the youth of the county.

This year at the fair, one of our employees’ daughters, Savannah, was in the dairy youth contest. She showed a dairy cow at the fair and won Grand Champion Holstein. The grand champion cow and the top showperson in each age group are featured in the Dairy Youth Showcase where people can bid on their animals. Unlike the meat animal sale, buyers don’t get to keep the animal they are bidding on – this sale is purely for youth support.

40% of the winnings are retained in the county for the dairy youth committee. This money goes to support different activities and experiences for the 4-Hers involved in the dairy project during the year. The other 60% goes directly to the exhibitor to support their involvement and development in agriculture.

This year, we “purchased” Savannah’s cow. It was really special to not only support a young community member, but also to support our employee’s daughter.

Sheboygan County Fair

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