Tag Archives: robotic milking

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.”

USDA International Agricultural Trade Officers Tour Oregon Agriculture

On the 21st of August, individuals from all over the world, including Asia, Europe and South America stopped in Tillamook to tour a dairy and the Tillamook Creamery.

It was just one stop on a tour of Oregon’s diverse agriculture as twenty-one locally employed staff supporting the USDA’s Agricultural Trade Offices at American embassies and consulates traveled the Oregon coast.

Their first stop on this week-long tour of American export opportunities was in Washington DC for tours, trainings, and meetings with the USDA. On Saturday they flew from Washington DC to Oregon. And Sunday, they began exploring everything Oregon grown, from pears to blueberries, barley and hazelnuts, to seafood and dairy.

“Dairy is such an important part of Oregon agriculture, and it’s such a longstanding tradition for this state,” said David Lane, Agricultural Development and Marketing Manager for ODA. “It’s important that we connect the world to Oregon’s dairy industry. So to get this group onto a dairy and into a creamery helps create that connection.”

At Oldenkamp Farms, tour guests were able to see robotic milking and automated feeding in action. The Lely feeding system is one of only four of its kind currently in the U.S., affectionately named by the Oldenkamp Family after Dr. Seuss’ “Thing 1 and Thing 2”.

After a visit with the cows and farm family that produce some of the milk for Tillamook cheese, the group of internationals continued on to the Tillamook Creamery Visitor’s Center for a self-guided tour and lunch. “This is the best cheese I have ever tasted,” said Annie Qiao, Marketing Specialist for the Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai. Annie explained that current trends in Shanghai for exports are focused on American foods for ingredients in Chinese meals.

“For those companies that are interested and ready [to export], the world is open for American products. And the world is really open for Oregon products” said Lane.

Stacy Foster from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council helped to organize the dairy portion of their tour. “It was a privilege to meet so many people from around the world that were not just passionate about American products, but specifically the products we offer here in Oregon. I hope we made a lasting impression.”

Eight Questions for an Oregon Dairy Mom

Mary Chamberlain is a dairy farmer alongside her husband, Jason, and in-laws Warren and Lori, at Dairylain Farms in Vale, Oregon. Mary and Jason have three boys between the ages of one and seven, and she coaches a cross country running team at the local high school. We asked Mary eight questions about her life as a farmer, community volunteer, and a mother.

Why do you farm?

It’s a family tradition that goes back to our great-grandparents. I was raised on a dairy farm, and I married a dairy boy. It only made sense to work on his parent’s dairy and raise our kids to love dairy cows as much as we do. Raising calves, fostering them to cows, and giving them what they need to produce wonderful milk — that is the pretty basic description of what we do. But in reality it’s so much more.

When our first born arrived, I tried to stay home, but the farm needed an extra set of hands. I found myself pushing a stroller along as I fed calves, vaccinated cows, or checked heifers. Now on our third child, we start our mornings by heading to the barn to get milk to feed the calves, and end our day checking on the robots (we added robotic milkers last July). I’m very proud to have my boys working with us every day.

What’s life like for your kids on the farm?

They all have different levels of love for the farm and our way of life. My one-year-old just loves to watch the cows, and of course, sample their food.

Dairylain_2017_2048My four-year-old plays for hours with his farm toys in the sandbox. Every once in a while we catch bits of his make-believe land, where he is the ‘dad’ and he drives his loader and feeds the cows. We even get hints of a girl he likes as she makes an appearance in this pretend world to feed baby calves. When he isn’t in the sandbox, he loves to follow his dad around or ride along while I check on the heifers.

Our seven-year-old is starting to connect the dots that feeding animals and taking care of them is essential for them to not just survive but to helps us survive. When an animal is born, he is one of the first to let us know, and then help his dad move her to the barn. He helps with every task on the dairy. Some he hates (he thinks feeding calves is too boring) and others he loves (like picking out animals to train for fair).

And you’re also involved in your local schools?

Yes, I’m the local cross country head coach, and I substitute teach when I can (which is a bit rare these days with a one year old). Before my boys, I ran marathons and did triathlons all over the country. These days, it’s important for me to stay fit for my sanity and my health. Coaching running is great way to give back to the community and teach kids a way to deal with their own stress and worries.

With a master’s degree in dairy science and a love for running, I’m a bit of a quirky sub. I encourage getting outside to do work. I believe there is this huge connection to moving and learning that we don’t utilize in the classroom.

How important is nutrition to your family and your cows?

Dairylain Farms Chamberlain jerseyAs a three time mom in her 30s who still runs and bikes when she can, what’s in my food and my boys’ food is a concern. We all burn a lot of calories. I don’t want any food around that is just going to give a quick energy high and then leave me with a headache and cranky kids. Protein, carbohydrates, digestible and usable sugars, vitamins and minerals: that’s what I look for in all my food, and I try to balance the levels based on what we need and when we need it.

Good nutrition is also important to our cows. They are sort of like a pro-athlete; they will burnout if they don’t train and eat right. We feed the cows to increase milk supply naturally by giving them the correct amount of energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals (and plenty of water). We have to make sure their nutrition allows them to milk plenty but doesn’t deplete their bones and body.

Do you use antibiotics or hormones?

Out of 375 milking animals, we have only one that’s getting antibiotics right now. We use antibiotics on our dairy according to the label, and no antibiotics are allowed to enter the food supply. If she gets an antibiotic shot, her milk gets dumped.

I think there is a misconception that as dairy farmers we are constantly giving shots for sickness. Really we give very few. My one year old has received more doses of antibiotics for ear infections this winter than we gave the entire milking herd for the same four months. We all work hard to give our animals the best chance to fight colds and viruses on their own. When they can’t, we call the vet and get the medication they need.

As for hormones, cows don’t need additional hormones to make them give more milk, they have enough natural ones.

How do you take care of your cows and calves?

Dairylain calf feedingWe feed them, ensure they are safe, healthy and comfortable, and we provide clean homes and bedding. We give the calves blankets and warm water in the winter and cold water in the summer. Sometimes when my kids are sick, it’s hard to leave the house to work at the dairy. But the cows and calves need us too.

Cows are not humans, and sometimes they can hurt or neglect their calves. So to the calves, we are their foster parents. They depend on us to understand their language, like a wagging tail and licking tongue means ‘I’m good!’ — droopy eyes and not getting up right away means something doesn’t feel right.

How do you care for the environment?

Improving the land around us is a big priority. Since we grow our own crops for the cows to eat, there is always plenty of land that could use more nutrients. We sample the soil to decide where nutrients are needed and that’s where we spread manure from our pens and barns. It’s natural, organic fertilizer.

We ensure that the water used in our barns for cooling milk is recycled, so the cows can have plenty to drink. We are constantly looking for ways to reduce waste in all forms and recycle what we can. We use solar powered electric fences to keep the heifers in, and solar powered pumps to run our pivots to keep the fields watered and the grass growing.

Are there any parting thoughts that you’d like people to know?

Dairylain_2017_1972Just as none of us are perfect parents, there are no perfect farmers. But we honestly do the best we can do on this day, and hope for the same or better tomorrow. Every day is another chance to do even better. I trust what we do, what my neighbors do, and what our fellow friends and dairy farmers across the country do. We are proud of the quality foods that we help bring to your table and ours!

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21st Century Dairy Farm, 21st Century Dairy Farmer

Today’s modern dairy farm is a far cry from what many people envision. Technology plays a very important role in dairy farming — from caring for cows to caring for natural resources. In Oregon, more and more dairy farmers are installing robotic milking systems for their cows.

With robotic milking systems, the cows are responsible for their own milking. They voluntarily enter a safe and clean stall when they’re ready to be milked — usually two to three times daily. Using an optical camera and lasers, the robot cleans and preps the cow’s udder, attaches and retracts the vacuum milking cups, and treats the udder post-milking to prevent infection. A meter continually monitors such things as milk quality and content or milking intervals — how often a cow comes through the stall.

The system’s software management alerts the farmer if anything is amiss. So if there’s anything abnormal about the milk quality, it’s automatically diverted away from the main milk supply. Or if a cow isn’t following her normal schedule, it may be an indication she’s not feeling well and the farmer is alerted. It’s real-time insight to each cow, individually. The cows also respond exceptionally well to the predictability and routine of the robots.

Robotics is just one of many ways that modern dairy farmers are evolving. Dairy farms across Oregon are already using RFID ear tags to monitor herd health, in addition to automated feeders, solar panels, methane digesters, GPS driven tractors, observation drones, computerized irrigation and much more. Technology is used not only to help make dairy farmers more efficient, but also to better care for their cows, the environment and their communities.

You can read more about robotic milking systems at two Oregon dairies in these recent headlines:

Mechanized milking
Local dairy goes high-tech with robotic upgrade

The Argus Observer
Dairylain Farms | The Chamberlain Family | Vale, OR

Tilla-Bay Farms celebrates five years as a robotic dairy with open house
Tillamook Headlight Herald
Tilla-Bay Farms, Inc | The Mizee Family | Tillamook, OR
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