Category Archives: on the farm

Meet Six Women Making a Difference in Dairy Farming

We’ve heard the old adage, “If you ate today, thank a farmer.” But who do you picture, when you think of a farmer? In today’s age, they are far from the stereotypes you learned about through nursery rhymes.

So today, we take a moment to recognize six of the hardworking women dairy farmers in Oregon.

Collman

Melissa Collman was raised on a dairy and, fourteen years ago, committed to continuing her family’s legacy as a fourth generation dairy farmer. She says, “I take care of all the books for our dairy. I also do just a wide range from driving the rake, helping build fence, relief milker, relief calf feeder, cow mover, you name it. If there is grunt work I’m usually a part of that.” Melissa also advocates for the dairy industry through farm tours and events.

“The best thing about working on a dairy farm is the family time! It is unique in this day-and-age to get to spend so much time with your family and it is something to be treasured. Beyond that, we are a part of something bigger. We get to produce an extremely healthy and quality product for other families to enjoy. We get to take care of these beautiful, funny, goofy animals and do our best to give them a quality life.”

Read more about Melissa’s family farm in this article.

X Doornenbal.JPG

Donata Doornenbal works alongside her parents on their organic dairy, Thomas Valley Farm. “I was born on a dairy, and at six years old I started helping with calf feeding. My dream is to continue on the dairy and share the joy with my future family,” she says. “My tasks include feeding calves and general calf care, milking, and a little office work. In the summer I also move, wrap, and stack silage bales, (those big white marshmallows that you see on farms) and do a lot of weed control.”

Donata views her role in the industry to be a rare privilege. “We work on the dairy because we want to. Every dairy farmer I know has so many skills and is continually learning in order to have the best business possible and farm in the best way possible.”

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Bobbi Frost is the fourth generation to work and live on her family’s farm, Harrold’s Dairy. She became a full-time farmer after graduating from Oregon State University in 2011. “Some days I am working with the cows and calves, and others I am cleaning barns or maintaining equipment. During harvest seasons I run the forage harvester,” she says.

“Not every day in Oregon is sunshine and blue sky … and neither is everyday spent working with three generations of your family, but I cannot imagine spending my life doing anything other than being a dairy farmer.”

Learn more about Bobbi Frost in this article.

Poland

Deanna Poland farms with her husband on their organic farm in central Oregon. “My first and most important role in the industry is to help our family run a smooth successful dairy.  I have many hats here on our dairy.  I am book keeper, calf feeder, tractor driver, CEO and educator. As an organic dairy farmer there is so much more book work and record keeping to be done.

Deanna became involved with the dairy industry when she was eight years old when her dad purchased an 80 cow dairy. “It was an extremely snowy cold January, and I was the one in charge of feeding calves. The calves were housed in individual hutches that were placed outside. We did not have bottle holders at the time and I had to stand and hold each bottle individually until it was empty. I think we had 8 calves when we took over the dairy. Let’s just say this little city girl had to get tough real quick!”

In spite of the long hours and inclement weather, Deanna says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I truly love is the wholesomeness it brings to our family.  We teach our children the value of working hard and that there are no cutting corners in life if you want to be successful.  We like to consider us as, ‘Team Poland.’  We all have an important role on this dairy and if we all work together we can have a very wonderful life.”

Samek

Karen Samek is an Area Field Manager for Northwest Dairy Association, the co-op that owns Darigold. She grew up on a dairy in the Willamette Valley. “I remember driving a loader while my dad pulled off three tie hay bales in the dark at a very young age. Probably six or seven. I started feeding calves around age seven or eight.” She started working as a field manager for the dairy industry in 2011.

“I work with a group of 90 farmers on most issues/needs that happen between the co-op and the individual farms.  I am also visiting farms on a regular basis. I really enjoy being able to do something different every day. I also like going to different places every day. But, the aspect that enjoy the most is the people. We have a great group of people working in this industry. This includes the farmers as well as the allied industry folks.” 

Although the dairy industry isn’t always easy, Karen says. “It’s hard to watch our culture trend towards becoming less appreciative of their food and also less aware what it really takes to produce food. Farmers are some of the most resilient people that I know, and that’s what I love about them. They love what they do enough to weather the storms.”

schoch

Casey Schoch has been working alongside her husband on their family farm, Schoch Dairy and Creamery, since 1991. Located near Portland, Schoch Dairy is a third generation dairy farm, and is home to 40 cows. The milk from these cows is pasteurized, bottled and sold right on the property in their own creamery. 

Casey cares for the financials, and orders supplies for both dairy and the creamery, along with marketing, and customer relations. “Living and working on a dairy farm is such a unique way of life. It is a daily commitment to take care of the cows and the facilities. They depend on us every day, but they give a lot in return.

My family and I have a lifetime of wonderful experiences that come from the cows. I have learned a lot about myself over the years on the dairy farm. Some days are full of laughter and others are filled with tears, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.”

Read more about Casey Schoch in this article.

Food for Thought: Would You Eat What Cows Eat?

“Why do we give food to cows that could be used to feed people?”

Through this new video we produced with Oregon dairy farmer Derrick Josi (aka TDF Honest Farming), we’re answering this relatively common question by serving up a full helping of facts about what cows eat.

We’re always working to address confusion and misconceptions about dairy. With more than 400,000 views and counting, the video has started some beneficial and enlightening conversations on social media about food byproducts, ruminant digestion, animal nutrition, crop rotation, marginal agricultural land and more.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the video, and you’ll see it provides some good food for thought.

Much of cow feed is actually comprised of byproducts from producing food for humans. We can’t digest some of the food that ruminants like cows can. They upcycle feed that might otherwise go to waste, and they turn it into milk, which makes the dairy products that we enjoy.

Additionally, much of the land where cows are located is not ideal or even viable for other crops. “Two thirds of the world’s agricultural land is marginal, which means it cannot be used to grow crops because the soil is not sufficient or there’s not enough water,” says Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. “We have to use that land for ruminant livestock, because it’s the only way to use it.”

Watch for upcoming videos addressing some other questions and misconceptions about dairy. If you’d like us to tackle one of your questions, just let us know!


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Girl Scouts Earn Dairy Patch at TMK Creamery

Photos by Joy Foster

For the second year in a row, Girl Scouts from Oregon and SW Washington gathered for a day of fun and education as they earned their dairy patch. And for many of the Girl Scouts, this was the first time they had ever visited a farm or seen a cow up close.

The Oregon Dairy Patch curriculum was designed by the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington, Tillamook County Creamery Association, and the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council. With a focus on hands-on learning, it encourages Girl Scouts to visit a dairy farm, discover how milk is transformed into dairy products, explore dairy nutrition, and learn about careers in the dairy industry.

On September 29, TMK Dairy and Creamery invited the Girl Scouts to earn the dairy patch at a special “Dairy Day” event. Through four different station experiences on their farm, 100 eager Girl Scouts and their families had the opportunity to learn about dairy products from start to finish.

TMK Creamery is a small family farm that began 30 years ago when the owner Todd Koch purchased his first Holstein cow. “It all started with a 4-H project that went too far,” he says. In 1997, the milking herd had grown, so the Koch family built TMK Dairy, and in 2018 they opened a creamery where Koch’s sister Shauna and brother-in-law Bert Garza began making farmstead cheeses.

The Koch family is passionate about agriculture education and have designed their farm and creamery accordingly. Interested parties can schedule tours of the farm, or visit on Saturdays when the farm and creamery is open to the public.

For the Dairy Day event, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, in partnership with Oregon Aglink, Oregon State University Extension, Oregon Dairy Women and TMK designed the stations to follow the Girl Scouts Dairy Patch Curriculum.

At the first station, TMK’s herdsman Marc Koch taught the Girl Scouts about the milking process. They watched a cow be milked, and even had the opportunity to milk a cow by hand. At this station they also had the opportunity to see calves and learn that they are fed with bottles, their bedding is clean and dry, and their pens are spacious and warm.

Station two, led by OSU Extension representative Jenifer Cruickshank, was all about how farmers care for their cows though nutrition, bedding, barns and pasture. They discussed the difference in dairy breeds and even had the opportunity to pet TMK’s “cowlebrities.”

At station three, Shauna Garza from TMK explained how milk from their cows gets made into delicious cheese. The Girl Scouts were able to look into the creamery through the windows of TMK’s boutique tasting room, where they learned about the importance of keeping the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities clean. Then, Mallory Phelan from Aglink and Tillamook County’s Dairy Princess Ambassador, Araya Wilks, led the group in a fun game designed to demonstrate the many career opportunities in agriculture.

The Girl Scouts were able to finish their patch requirements at the last station, led by the Klamath County Dairy Princess Ambassador, Jaime Evers, as she talked about the importance of dairy in a well-balanced diet, and then the Girl Scouts were able to “taste test” delicious cheese that was made right there on the farm.

“The Oregon Dairy Patch program is a great opportunity for girls to discover the local food chain. It encourages them to be curious about where their food comes from, and what it takes to get it from the farm to the factory to their table,” said Lisa Gilham-Luginbill, Program Manager for Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington. “We hope they’ll learn something new along the way, and perhaps discover an interest or future career in the process.”

RELATED LINKS:

Oregon Dairy Patch curriculum

Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington

New Girl Scouts Dairy Patch Unveiled at Oregon Dairy Day Event

Who’s Who: Careers in Food

Diverse Community of Dairies Thrives on Collaboration

When Louie Kazemier of Rickreall Dairy is looking to make an improvement on his farm, he prefers to do so with his eyes wide open. In the world of dairy, that means checking with others in the dairy industry – others who aren’t hesitant about sharing.

“I put all new stalls and stanchions in the barns,” Kazemier said recently, “and before we did that, I visited several dairies with my manager and looked at how they were doing it. And those particular dairymen spent several hours with us answering questions.”

Sharing information, it turns out, is nothing new in an industry that Kazemier describes as “a tight community.” It is a community with a diversity of dairies large and small, organic and conventional, traditional and technologically advanced. Regardless of the size or type, all benefit from collaborative “knowledge transfer” and sharing best practices.

Kazemier said he regularly opens his doors to dairymen, many of whom stop to tour the farm, which is situated on a major Oregon highway.

“We take quite a bit of time to show people around and answer questions,” Kazemier said.

The same can be said of Threemile Canyon Farms, where visits from dairymen are common, according to Dairy Operations Manager Jeff Wendler.

“Probably three to four dairy guys come through in an average month,” Wendler said. “Then we have some other large dairymen in the Midwest, and we’ll go visit their operations to see what they are doing.”

“We are willing to share what we do,” said Threemile General Manager Marty Myers. “It is pretty transparent.”

At Dairylain Farms in Vale, Ore., Warren Chamberlain said he, too, has an open-door policy. Dairylain uses robotics and solar panels in their operation.

“We have a lot of dairymen come out and tour the farm, and we share everything,” Chamberlain said.

The practice is reciprocal, he said.

“I have even gone on road trips and saw a dairy and stopped in there and once they realize I am a dairyman, they pretty much open up and tell me what and how they do things in that area,” Chamberlain said.

At Threemile, Myers said many dairies are interested in the farm’s animal welfare program, and in how the farm handles employee relations.

“We have had folks reach out to us and say, ‘Rather than reinvent the wheel, can you share what you are doing?’” Myers said.

“There are certain things like animal welfare practices that we employ that benefit the entire industry, and that we are happy to share,” said Threemile’s Wendler.

“Dairy is its own family,” Dairylain’s Chamberlain said. “We all have the same issues, and I think we are all pretty willing to help each other figure out what we do that works and how we got there.”

Until the Cows Come Home: A Poetic Tribute to Dairy Dads

Until the Cows Come Home
by Josh Thomas


It’s the dawning of a new day,
The sun rises on the farm.
A farmer holds his infant child
Bundled in his arms.

The father speaks the same words
That his dad spoke years ago.
He says, “Son I’m mighty glad you’re here
And there’s something you should know.

This dairy’s more than milking cows,
It’s about our family’s love,
And I’ll always be there for you
Just like the stars above.
When days are rough and times are tough, wherever you may roam,
You’ll find me right there by your side until the cows come home.”

As he grows up, dad teaches son
Everything he knows.
That little helper’s by his side
In heat and bitter cold.

But then one day son breaks the news
He’ll leave if he’s allowed,
With plans to go to college and
Dad just says, “Son I’m proud.

This dairy’s more than milking cows,
It’s about our family’s love,
And I’ll always be there for you
Just like the stars above.
When days are rough and times are tough, wherever you may roam,
You’ll find me right there by your side until the cows come home.”

The years go by so fast and now
The boy is fully grown.
Graduation, marriage,
And the son has come back home.

Dad’s tired eyes look to the skies
As the sun is getting low.
The son says, “Dad I’m glad you’re here,
And there’s something you should know.

Our dairy’s more than milking cows,
This I’ve come to know.
And dad we just found out
We’ll have a daughter of our own.
Though days are rough and times are tough, we’ll call this dairy home.
You’ll find us right there by your side until the cows come home.”


Cows Set a Good Example for National Nutrition Month

by Josie Oleson
Graduate Student in Clinical Nutrition
Oregon Health & Science University

As a student of nutrition, I know a lot about what people eat. It wasn’t until I visited a dairy farm that I learned what cows eat and how well they eat while producing the milk and dairy products we love. During my time on the farm, I discovered three ways that cows set a good example for the rest of us during National Nutrition Month and beyond.

#1: Cows have nutritionists

When was the last time you saw a dietitian? Cow nutritionists visit dairy farms regularly and observe the herds, analyze the nutritional quality of their feed, and see how much milk the cows are producing. Using that information, a cow nutritionist can change the components of their feed to make the herd as healthy as possible.

#2: Cows follow tailored diets

Cows get a specific mix of grasses, grains, and byproducts from food processing to support a balanced diet. Cow nutritionists ensure the feed ingredients are in the right amounts for optimal cow health and milk production.

What happens if the cows get off track? Here’s Derrick Josi from Wilsonview Dairy having a talk with his Jersey cows about the importance of following a nutritious diet and not eating empty calories.

#3: Cows eat a lot of fiber

Almond hulls and citrus pulp are some of the byproducts from food production that are added to cow feed. Humans can’t digest these things, yet they are full of fiber and other nutrients. Instead of going to waste, cows can digest them and convert them into nutritious milk.

These are just a few of the ways cows stay at their best thanks to a healthy diet. Dairy farmers and their nutritionists are helping keep their herds healthy, making milk more efficiently, and managing their farms more sustainably.

Dairy Farmer Stepping Up as Volunteer Firefighter

By trade, he’s a dairy farmer milking 100 cows on his organic farm in Hubbard, Oregon. But with 27 years volunteering as a firefighter, Steve Aamodt is also a humble hero.

“I started volunteering because it sounded like fun, and it became a way to give back to the community,” said Steve. He is currently serving as Assistant Chief in the Monitor Rural Fire Protection District.

Over almost three decades volunteering, Steve has put in close to 3,000 hours of training, not to mention his time responding to emergency calls. “People don’t call 9-1-1 on their best day. It’s nice to be able to help people.”

It seems that farming and firefighting go hand in hand, as six of the current thirteen Monitor volunteers are also farmers. But rural volunteer fire isn’t wasn’t it used to be. “When I joined, there were nearly thirty volunteers and most of them were farmers,” he said. “Now, there are fewer farmers in the community, and fewer firefighters. Farmers just know about helping other people, you help your neighbor, it’s just what you do,” said Aamodt.

Steve also attributes farmers’ inclinations to be firefighters to their ‘fix-it’ attitude.

“If something on the farm goes wrong, you can’t just run around screaming ‘oh no!’

You have to be of a mindset to fix a problem when you see a problem,” he said. “That helps, I think.”

STEPPING UP TO SUPPORT WORTHY CAUSES

This year, this volunteer firefighter ‘stepped up’ in a big way by participating in two firefighter stair climb fundraisers. These fundraisers, in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, are open solely to career or volunteer firefighters. The challenge is to climb the stairs of a building in full turnout gear, which weighs over 50 pounds, including their Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). The Portland stair climb is 41 floors, and the Seattle stair climb is a whopping 70 flights of stairs – the largest such stair climb competition in the nation.

Steve signed up for the Seattle event knowing it was going to be a challenge. “I didn’t realize just how hard it was going to be for me at 58 years old. All the years that I’ve been a farmer I’m sure helped me to do it, just because I have worked hard my whole life, but it really was the single hardest thing I have ever done,” said Aamodt.

And the fundraising was just as important to Steve. “The Seattle stair climb is a fundraiser for leukemia, so I started talking with the people I do business with, and started getting donations. That was fun, too, because it became another way to give back.” In all, the 2018 LLS Firefighter Stairclimb earned $2.61 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to support blood cancer research.

While smaller, the Portland Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge, a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis, was no less significant for Steve who climbed all forty floors with a photo of his friend’s daughter on his helmet. “It’s not as hard, because it’s less floors, but it has become really special to me because of raising money for cystic fibrosis. I have a friend whose daughter gave part of her lung to her cousin who had it, so I dedicate my climb to them. That’s become pretty special too.” Since 2009, this event has raised $1.2 million toward finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

IT’S BECOMING A FAMILY TRADITION

Three of Aamodt’s children are first responders. His oldest son is a full-time firefighter in Canby, Oregon, and his youngest son is an EMT in Salem as well as a volunteer firefighter in Monitor and Canby. His daughter also recently joined the volunteer program in Aurora and is currently completing her 120 hours of training through a firefighting academy.

All three of his children participated in the Portland challenge this year, and the boys also participated in the Seattle climb. “My son did it first,” Aamodt said, and now they are all hooked. “Standing on the 70th floor with my son was just the biggest thrill,” he said.

Steve, along with his two sons, are already signed up to participate in the Seattle stair climb challenge on March 10, 2019. That event sold-out within 15 minutes of registration opening. If you would like to donate to Steve’s quest in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, you can visit his fundraising page.

Funny Questions, Serious Impacts on Dairy Tours

Fresh off of the school bus, wide-eyed youngsters set foot on a dairy farm for the very first time. They’re taking in all of the sights, and yes, the smells.

WATCH VIDEO

The farmer welcomes the students to her dairy and asks, “Do you know where milk comes from?

”Their most common answer? “The grocery store!”

This response shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that 98% of the U.S. population are generations removed from the farm. Tours are an excellent way to better inform and educate students about something that directly affects them and their families every day: where their food comes from.

“Most of the kids have never been on a farm. They have never seen farm animals in person,” said Melissa Collman, a dairy farmer in Boring, Oregon. “And even though our dairy isn’t very far away, we are miles apart as far as what they have experienced in life.”

As you might imagine, dairy farm tours can also be a source of humor, so we asked several Oregon dairy farmers and tour guides to tell us about some of the funny things they’ve heard or experienced while leading a tour.

JAMIE BANSEN, FOREST GLEN JERSEYS

Jamie and her dog, Olive, recently hosted a large group including students who had never set foot on a farm, let alone a dairy farm. Like a quick draw in the Old West, these middle schoolers quickly reached for their smartphones to snap photos and video along the way.

Students were amazed that manure is beneficial as a source of energy, bedding and fertilizer. “So wait, cow poop can make electricity and be sold for money?” a student asked. His serious question quickly devolved into laughter as a cow demonstrated the first step of that process.

After one of the girls expressed surprise about how quiet and happy the cows seemed, she decided, “I don’t want to go back to school. I want to pet cows all day.”

STACY FOSTER, RICKREALL DAIRY

“They love to tell me stories about their mom’s, cousin’s, friend’s cow that they saw once,” said Stacy.

Kids have told her they want to live at her dairy and become a farmer. They also want to bring calves home … until they’re reminded that they soon turn in to large cows.

“Some are amazed that we only have cows on our farm, since the only other farmer they know is Old McDonald,” she said. When the kids ask to see the other animals, like chickens, her answer makes the parent chaperones laugh. “Those animals don’t like to be milked, so they live on a different farm.”

CASEY SCHOCH, SCHOCH DAIRY AND CREAMERY

“On one of our tours, a little boy told me a cow joke,” said Casey. “What do you call a cow that has had her baby? De-calf-inated!

”Many of the kids ask to see the brown cows that make the chocolate milk, she said, but followed that it isn’t just the kids who ask funny questions.

“I actually had a mom ask me in all seriousness why we don’t milk the bulls,” said Casey, “I then tried to explain that similar to human females, only female cows have the correct parts for producing milk.”

MELISSA COLLMAN, CLOUD CAP DAIRY

Beyond the innocent and funny questions like whether boy cows make milk, Melissa expressed concern that students often echo some bizarre myths about dairy farming spread on social media and blog posts.

A student approached Melissa on a tour about rumors he heard about strange ingredients in milk. “So I milked a cow in front of this little boy, and he got to see for himself,” she said. “He was shocked.”

“It’s really important that we as farmers help educate consumers and future generations,” she said. “The funny questions and comments I hear on farm tours just reaffirm that any time we spend with the kids is time well spent.”

Catch a glimpse of some children discovering a dairy farm for the very first time in the video below.

 

If You’re in Business for 100 years, You’re Doing Something Right

Farming is not just a business, it’s a legacy. Passed down from generation to generation, it’s a timeless tradition of caring for land and animals.

On Saturday, August 25, at the Oregon State Fair, this great heritage was celebrated by recognizing twelve farms and ranches from eight different Oregon counties as Century Farms. Two farms even reached Sesquicentennial status, which marks 150 years.

Farms are recognized as Century Farms when the same family has worked the same land for at least 100 years. There are now 1,212 Century Farms and Ranches and 41 Sesquicentennial Farms registered in the state of Oregon.

Two of the farms awarded Century status this year have been dairy farming in Tillamook since 1918.

Wilsonview Dairy was founded by Alfred Josi when he and his brother John, who immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland, made a lease to own agreement with George and Mary Durrer. The farm’s main focus for 100 years has been dairy farming, and is now run by Alfred’s grandson Don, and great-grandson Derrick.

Just down the road, and distant cousins to the Wilsonview Farm, Tilla-Bay Farms was founded by Fred and Gotfried Josi with 24 cows and 34 acres. They added the first free-stall barn and parlor in Tillamook County, and have continued to farm on the cutting edge, also being the first farm in the western U.S. to install robotic milking machines in 2010. The farm is now run by Bart and Terry Mizee and Kurt Mizee. Terry is the granddaughter and Kurt is the great grandson of founder Fred Josi.

 

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At the ceremony, guest speaker and century farm owner Peter Sage said, “The farm begins, not with a deed, but with a family. These families demonstrate the perseverance, determination and providence it takes to create a legacy.”

Dylan Westfall, Vice President for Oregon’s Future Farmers of America, encouraged those in attendance to celebrate their past, while looking toward the future. “We must use the past to change the present for the future,” he said.

While tradition runs deep within the dairy industry, so does innovation, as is demonstrated by both of these farms. Derrick Josi shares his farm life with 22,000 followers on Facebook as a nationally known advocate for the dairy industry, and Kurt Mizee is owner of Priority Robotics in Tillamook, a dairy robotic dealership installing new robotic systems every month.

In addition to the two Century Farm dairies, 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council and Darigold.

Got Robots? Oregon Dairies Embracing Automation

After serving three generations of the Mann family, the old milking parlor at the Abiqua Acres dairy farm had seen better days. So when Alan and Barbara Manns’ daughter Darleen Sichley and her husband, Ben, decided to join the family operation, it was time to upgrade.

And upgrade they did.

The Silverton, Oregon, dairy today is among a small, but growing number of Western U.S. dairies using robotic milking systems. The 95-cow Guernsey dairy installed two robotic milkers in January 2017.

“It was a tough decision,” said. “It is a big investment. But we had to look at going a different direction when my husband and I joined.”

Robotic milking systems are employed on less than two percent of U.S. dairies, said Kurt Mizee, president of Priority Robotics in Tillamook, Oregon, who, with his father, Bart Mizee operates Tilla-Bay Farms in Tillamook. But the technology is catching on rapidly among big and small dairies.

“The adoption is definitely ramping up,” said Mizee, who runs three robotic milkers on his fourth-generation Tillamook dairy, including two he installed in 2011, the first ever installed in the Western U.S.

Dairy farmers choose to go robotic for several reasons, Mizee said. Some, such as the owners of Abiqua Acres, chose robotics primarily for the scheduling flexibility the systems provide.

“When you’re milking cows, it’s always four o’clock in the morning and four in the afternoon,” Darleen Sichley said. “Now you can work around what you want to do. Things still have to get done that day, but it is not so time sensitive.”

She added: “My parents sacrificed a lot when they milked cows for twenty years. Looking at what direction we wanted to go, robotics felt like a really good fit; because there is that flexibility, that balance between dairying and family life.”

Others, like Dairylain Farms, a 500-cow dairy in Vale, Oregon, chose to go robotic more for business reasons. “We couldn’t find labor,” said owner Warren Chamberlain. “It made our decision to go this route pretty easy.”

Whatever the initial motivation, cows, it turns out, by all measurable standards, appear to love the systems.

“If you walk through the barn, the cows are calm and easy to be around,” Mizee said, “and they just do their own thing and really can express their potential.”

“The cow can eat, milk, drink, and do whatever she wants to do whenever she wants to do it,” Chamberlain said. “And the cows like it better. Our components came up, butter-fat protein came up, our milk-per-cow came up, and our health on the animals is better.”

Chamberlain also discovered another benefit since installing the systems in July 2016. “We are actually out with the cows more now that we were, and that is what we enjoy doing,” he said.

Robotics are just one of many ways that modern dairy farmers are evolving, sources said. Automated feeders, solar panels, methane digesters, GPS driven tractors and computerized irrigation are other examples of high-tech influence transforming this otherwise traditional industry.

More than any other single advancement, however, robotic milking systems appear to be generating the most buzz within the industry.

The systems do much more than milk cows. Through the use of software that reads radio frequencies from a sensor attached to a cow’s ear, or, in some cases, to a collar that cows wear, robotic milking systems identify unique characteristics of a cow when she enters the system’s milking area. Systems can then deliver a customized amount of feed based on a cow’s milk-production level, with cows that produce more milk receiving more of the high-protein, grain-based mixtures dairy farmers supply in the milking area than lower-producing cows.

“Because the robot is feeding every cow for her production, she has a chance to really shine as an individual, versus being part of a group,” Mizee said.

Next, while cleaning a cow’s udder, the robot utilizes electronic mapping to locate a cow’s teats before milking the cow with suction-cup-like devices. When milking is complete, the system will re-clean the udder and spray a mist over the floor of the milking area, which signals the cow to move on and let the next cow enter.

Cows enter the milking area by pushing through a swinging gate. “It takes them a little while to realize that there is grain there, and to realize they can get some,” Chamberlain said. After that, left to their own devices, cows push through the gate on their own volition. “There is that feed incentive,” Sichley said, “and they want to get milked, as well.”

In addition to feeding and milking cows, robotic milking systems also analyze each cow’s milk for production elements, such as fat and protein content, and for warning signals of health issues. If the milk doesn’t meet strict quality standards, it is immediately diverted away from storage tanks.

Mizee also has an app on his smart phone that sends alerts when a cow is losing her appetite, resting more than usual, or engaging in other activities that indicate early stages of a health issue. The app, he said, helps him proactively treat cows before they get sick.

“It is all about getting to the point where you can be preventative and proactive, rather than treating for the condition,” Mizee said. “Probiotics and other preventative options can help you avoid using antibiotics.”

Not all dairies are equipped to operate robotic milking systems. For one thing, the cost for a system can be prohibitive. Among several competing brands of milking robots, all of which have unique characteristics, prices range from $175,000 to $250,000, with an expected payback of five to seven years.

Still, more and more dairies in recent years have come to realize the technology can work for them.

“Since we put ours in, in our area of Western Oregon and Western Washington, there has been basically one robot install going in almost all the time,” Mizee said. “We are getting to the point now where there are two or three going in at any one time.

“Part of that growth is that bigger farms have recognized the value of it. They are seeing value not only the labor savings, but in the fact that we are able to treat the cow better, and profit because of that. It is not just about quality of life anymore,” Mizee said.

“The fact that we are developing systems that are better for cows and better for people, I believe is pretty significant,” Mizee added. “That is going to keep generations farming, and that is going to keep our industry viable long into the future.”

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