Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Floor plan of robot barn

Here is the floor plan of the flat barn.  Under the red canopy sits the “box” where the cow stands to eat and be milked.  We did not put up the red canopies.  In our building design, we overhung the roof and floor joists to make a cover a bit wider and longer for the cow to have protection from the rain, sun, snow & to hang fans and lights. We try to keep the cow as comfortable as possible when she is eating and being milked. 

An intruder in the flat barn!

Sunday, August 9
Its about 5 a.m. right now and I am unable to sleep.  The robots called me with an alarm at a little past 3 a.m. this morning.   When I went out to the flat barn (our robotic dairy building), still half asleep, I found a cow inside the building with the robots. I had to do a double take, and wipe my eyes to make sure I was really seeing a cow inside the robot room.  She was pushed into a corner, kind of trapped by a robot on the south of her and a robot on the west of her.  There was a concrete wall to the north of her and a very small opening to the east of her.  I had to take the  robots out of service, move them to a different posisiton and open our 4’ wide man door (where we enter) to let her out of the flat barn.  Then I opened the gates to let her back into the corral.  I was fearful that she would not go back to be milked for a while after this experience.  I then went back into the flat barn, put the robots back into operation.  
I was inside cleaning up the robots and the mess the cow had made, trying to figure out how in the crap she got inside the barn.  When I looked over to robot #3, there she was!  T-R # 64 had made her way to the robot that fast and was standing there eating her feed waiting to be milked.  As I watched her being milked, still amazed at how dang cool these robotic milking machines are, I figured she must have slipped down in robot box # 1 and crawled on her knees inside the flat barn.  She was in there for well over an hour before she got trapped in the corner.  I have been wondering for the last five hours if she just stood in the middle of the flat barn watching her friends being milked without any humans around thinking,  “Holy Cow! This is cool!”, and then when she went to get a closer look at something on the robots, both of the robots of 1 & 2 moved together and trapped her in the corner where I found her.  I just smile at how calm she was when I got her out & how quickly she went right back to being milked by the robot.  Gosh- being a dairy farmer is full of adventure. 

The "flat barn"

Here is a picture of our “flat barn” as we call it.  The cows do not enter the inside of the building.  The outside has a “box” where the cow enters through a gate, and the gate closes behind her, leaving her alone in the box to eat and be milked.  There is an opening in the wall of the building that allows the robot to swing its arm under the cow.  The arm brushes, cleans, & prepares the teats for milking, then the arm positions itself under the cow & the teat cups are attached to the teats individually. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Production up

July 27
Automatic Milking System is going well.  The cows are going through really well.  Production is on its way up at a slow and steady pace.  Cows are going through about 2.7 times per day on the average with the high cows going through as many as 5 times.  The higher the production of the animals and the more recently they have freshened (had a calf), the more they go to the robots on their own and also go more frequently to the robots to get milked. 

A second chance....

July 20
It is amazing to me that we can take numerous days and trips to the robots to train a cow, & it can all be undone by just one trip that is a lousy experience.  The robots went down for about 4.5 hours a bit ago.  I was frustrated by how long the line was of cows waiting to be milked.  It seemed like it took 2-3 days to catch up on the milkings.  Some of the cows we had to guide to the robot barn again. It was as if they were thinking—“I was over there the other night, waited 3+ hours and wasn’t able to get in, so I ‘m not going back”.  It has since caused me to be more patient with restaurants.  You see, we eat out often.  Most of our experiences are good, pleasant and even enjoyable.  But a couple incidents still recent enough to be on my mind are times when I order & have to wait 55 minutes for my food, and then they get my order wrong & I think similar to what I think my cows thought—“….. I had a bad experience last time and am not going back”  I wish my cows had better memories and could think that 17 of the last 18 times was a great experience, I will walk back over to the robot building again today…… The other side of the coin also makes me realize the importance of making sure that the cows always have a positive experience going to the flat barn,  just like us humans want a positive experience every time we go out to eat.   And maybe I need to give some of those restaurants another chance....

Friday, June 19, 2015

Monitoring the robots is a big project.

The dairy consultant that is my rep from the company where I purchased the robots is a great help.  He is looking at the data on my computer via “team viewer” and helping me to monitor the cows and the progress that we are making, the problems that exist, and areas that we can improve on. 

One issue with me is that this company is from the Netherlands and hasn’t incorporated US English into the CRS ( the brains of the operation) .  The CRS calls my phone if there are “alarms” and most of the time I hear what the machine is saying, but I don’t understand (like listening to my wife).  The alarms are things such as- if there are 3 consecutive failures, a sensitivity sensor is out, filter not changed, low water pressure, low air pressure, waste milk buckets full & so forth.  It calls me and for some of the alarms it shuts down the robot. For others it is not critical, so it continues to milk.  I consider it a major accomplishment to be able to sleep through the night without a call from the CRS.  I have the phone number of my CRS programmed into my phone as “Domo Gory Oto, Mr. Roboto”  words from a song, when I was a bit younger. 

I have actually gotten two nights of consecutive uninterrupted sleep finally and so I am thinking that life is going to be good and get back to normal.

I have a  bunch of neighbors who ask about the how the robots are doing, and I usually reply somehow along the line of – well, the robots have been kicked- but they didn’t cuss the cow, slap the cow, just went right back to milking. The robots haven’t called in sick, had to leave to run an errand, showed up late, nor argued with each other.  I might think I have the perfect milking machine, IF we could get all the bugs worked out of it and running a bit better.

Overall the robot experience is looking up and getting better. It still has room to improve and we must get more improvement on efficiencies and increased milk production. We need to get better cow flow and have the cows totally trained.  That will probably never happen, since there are new ones calving indefinitely, but we will keep milking along!      


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

13 Alarms in one day on the "brains" of the system

Sunday May 31
Today sucked. 
It's Sunday night. I haven't been in the house a total of an hour since 5:30 a.m.  I had thirteen errors today on the CRS - that's the brains that control all the valves, air lines, robots, milk pumps etc....
I had my future son in law and his family and some of my daughter's friends over and showed the robot room and Automatic Milking System to them Saturday night.  I must have bragged it up too much. I was sure thinking things were starting the smooth track. Boy, was that bad thinking.
Dan, from Lely, has been a good help this week with adjusting the computer and putting up more dashboard type instruments to watch and monitor cow flow, milk, feed intake, successful attachments & not successful and also box time and prep time.  It is good to see that we are improving.
Robots have been up and running now for about 12 days.  The first six were lousy to miserable to retrain and lots of unexpected problems.  The second group of six were repositioning cameras to the original settings, spending time inside the robot room to "drive" the robots to the correct starting point, and now things appear to be looking up. 

We continue to have many visitors to the dairy to watch the robots work.  When the robots are all working it is truly an amazing site to watch the unmanned dairy barn at work.  I still do not trust that all is going well.  I don't sleep well.  I get up at all hours of the night and go check on the robots.  I am fascinated at how well they work in the night.  I believe from looking at all the information that is generated from the computer that the robots are most efficient at nighttime.  When nobody is around scraping corrals, fluffing up the beds, nor just checking on the cows, it seems that the cows love to go get milked by the robots. 

We continue to increase milk each day, and are almost back to the level of production prior to robot installation.  The components, both fat and protein, are both up slightly since switching to robots to milk.  I know we are not as rough on the milk, beating it with motor impellors and dropping it into the tank from above & I wonder how much effect that has on components.  I continue to be in awe that we can fill the milk tank from the bottom just pushing the milk with air.  It is a great sound to sit in the tank room and hear a cow's milk from the robot room being plunged with air into the tank & hear the gurgling sound as it is pushed into the bottom of the tank. 

Biggest problem is that I am still really disappointed that the robots will not milk my smaller animals, especially the young jersey cows.  I feel that I was a bit deceived by the messages that were placed out there of the success of all cows regardless of size.  I am even more nervous looking to the future as I have a bunch of jersey heifers bred & ready to calve this summer and fall.  I wonder what plans I may have to change, or what programs to implement to try to mitigate this problem.  I am still waiting to see and hear what Lely and DSC have to say and do to mitigate this issue.
Things seemed to be much better this evening than they were early this morning and most of the day.
We are about 20 days at least behind at planting corn. Most of my fields where we plant corn are partially under water.  The rain from the last 25 days has sure left us a long way behind and a lot of catching up to do.    I hope we finally have a good week both with the robots and making headway with working some fields if they dry enough so we can get some corn seed in the ground.