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Automatic Milking System Game Changer for Wisconsin Dairy Farm

Editor’s Note: Part two of a two-part series on automated milking systems designed for dairy farms. Two University of Wisconsin River Falls professors will conduct a research study on RBS, and a Wisconsin farmer using automated milking systems says they saved their family farm. Read the first part here.

Children often think that they will enjoy reversing the role. But when they have to try it on for size, it just doesn’t fit snugly.

Especially with your parents. But it got to a point where Tina Hinchley’s daughter had seen enough.

Anna Hinchley watched her mother milk the cows in the barn nine hours a day. She was often alone. Anna’s father had his own workload to conquer the farm. The help was unreliable.


What you need to know

  • University of Wisconsin River Falls professors, in collaboration with four other universities, have been awarded a $250,000 grant to study the financial, environmental and social impacts of robotic milking systems on dairy farms.
  • Automated milking is an optional milking system that allows cows to set their own milking schedule. As the robot milks the cow, farmers have more flexibility in how they use their time and more time to devote to managing the farm
  • Automatic milking systems collect information on the quantity, quality and health of the cow, helping farmers better manage their herd
  • The project is planned to be completed by October 2024

“She saw I was killing myself,” Hinchley said.

Armed with a dairy science degree from the University of Wisconsin and knowledge from a summer internship where she has analyzed and evaluated nearly 60 robotic farms, Anna Hinchley has, in one form or another, set an ultimatum.

“I made this suggestion, ‘If I bring robots to the farm, I’ll come back,'” Hinchley said.

Unlike that …

So they toured different farms and checked out different robotic milking systems.

“Speaking with these farmers, they shared with us what has changed in their lives,” Hinchley said.

I understood that change was not only good, but necessary. So in December 2019, Hinchleys installed four automated milking machines as part of a larger investment in its Cambridge dairy farm.

( Specif News 1 / Anthony Dabrozzi )

“I think I’m a better farmer,” Tina said. “Well, I know I am a better farmer. I am a better manager. And with that, I am a better mother and a better wife. I have more time to do other things.”

Robotic milking systems have been around for a while. But due to many unknowns and a large initial cost – roughly $150,000 to $200,000 – they didn’t light up the dairy industry.

To that end, two University of Wisconsin River Falls professors have received a $250,000 grant to study the financial, environmental and social impacts of robotic milking systems on dairy farms. The project is expected to be completed in October 2024.

“A lot of[information]is driven by rumours, and what robotic milk manufacturers are saying,” said Shahir Burney, a professor in the UWRF’s Department of Agricultural Economics who co-led the study. “This is not always accurate.

“It’s really high time because it’s a new technology that is now beginning to integrate into dairy farms.”

Tina Hinchley has already been sold.

“Oh sure,” she said. “100%.”

Perhaps the biggest advantage that RMS offers is that the cows set their own milking schedule.

“On our farm, they pass an average of three times a day,” Hinchley said. “But we have some that go through four or five times.

“When we were in the tie stall, I only milked twice a day. And if you can get a cow that produces more milk, not more cows, that is definitely more sustainable.”

Tina Hinchley on her family’s farm. ( Specif News 1 / Anthony Dabrozzi )

Robotic milking systems also work like a neighborhood bar, a place where the cows can hang out and bond. It is an important component of their health and well-being.

“It’s definitely a social environment,” Hinchley said. “In the robot, the cows can milk themselves. They can eat when they want. They can go for a drink when they want. There are mattresses for them. There are waterbed mattresses, so they can take an afternoon nap. Food is always available. It’s the most technology there is.” right Now “.

The bots also track more than 110 data points per cow.

“She’ll take her temperature,” she said. “Conductivity will do. We also have the somatic cell count. So we will be able to determine if this cow has ever got sick before we ever expected.”

If something happens to the bot, it automatically makes a Hinchley call.

“They tell you what a robot is and what the problem is,” she said.

They can often solve the problem themselves, Hinchley said. When they can’t, they have a company nearby that offers around-the-clock support.

“They don’t want to go out at 2 in the morning,” she said. “So I can tell them on the phone and tell them what’s going on. They can actually interact with our computers and see what’s going on and talk to us through it. If we can’t figure it out by chance, they can come out with their tech truck and they can fix it. Usually in a couple of hours.”

So what does all this mean?

“The farm was run by three kids in high school in 2019,” Hinchley said. “And our whole family, with my mother who died of cancer, we went to my son’s wedding in Seattle for seven days. It was the first time we had a family vacation. Ever. And so it’s definitely life changing.”

Changing lives on many fronts.

“If you want a family member to come back to the farm, and you’re not up to date with your technology, your kids aren’t going home,” Hinchley said. “They have no reason to go home. There is not enough money in the dairy industry to keep these children at home.

“So if you want your kids to come home, you better give them something to come back to. And that’s what we did for our daughter Anna.”

Story idea? You can reach Mike Woods at 920-246-6321 or at: michael.t.woods1@charter.com

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