Benefits seen from robotic milkers


ALBERS, Ill. — Significant changes have been made to the

Arentsen Dairy Farm, which has been operated by the family for several


“I’m the third-generation Arentsen farming here and

Phillip is the fourth,” said Jerry Arentsen, who farms together with his son,

Phillip. “We milk about 140 cows and we farm about 500 acres.”

In April 2014, the dairymen switched to milking their

herd with two Lely robotic machines.

“This morning the cows are at 69.5 pounds of milk, and

they are averaging 2.8 milkings per day,” Arentsen said during the Dairy

Technology Showcase, hosted by the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association.

As the cows go through the Lely milking system, the

system provides lots of information to the dairymen.

“The Lely has a scale, so it tells you how much the cow

weighs,” the dairyman explained. “And it gives you all kinds of information,

like how much milk each quarter gives and total time in the stall,”

For the fresh cows, the robot is set so the milk flows

into buckets.

“The milk goes into the buckets for the first two days

after a cow is fresh, and we keep that milk for the calves,” Arentsen


Robot Calling

When there is any problem with the robot, it will call

Arentsen’s cell phone.

“It keeps calling until it gets someone’s attention,” he

said. “I don’t get too many calls. Usually it is something minor like a hose has

been kicked off.”

For treated cows, the information is entered into the

computer, and the robot will dump the milk automatically. Once the cow leaves

the stall, the robot will do a local wash of the machine.

Labor savings is one of the many benefits of adding the

robotic milking system to the farm, Arentsen said.

“We probably had $150,000 in employees around here two

years ago,” he reported. “So we should have the robots paid off in four years.”

The dairymen also made some changes to the freestall


“We had a four-row freestall barn, but we put the feed

alley where there was a row of stalls,” Phillip Arentsen explained. “We put new

rafters up to make room for the feed alley, and we use sand for bedding.”

The barn currently contains 160 stalls. However,

Arentsen said, it is designed with room for expansion.

“The feed alley will be the center of the barn,” he

explained. “We plan to add free stalls and two more robots on that side of the

barn some day.”

All the cows have a black tag around their necks.

“If the computer tells me a cow is in heat, she gets

bred,” Arentsen said. “And it also provides rumination information — how many

times a cow chews her cud.”

Feeding Rules

Cows at the Clinton County dairy are fed once a day.

“We feed a 60-pound ration through the TMR and the rest

through the robot,” Arentsen said.

The calf barn at the dairy includes a calf feeder.

“We have one feeder with two stations,” Arentsen said.

“For the first three to five days, the calves go into individual pens, and we

bottle feed them.”

Then the calves are moved into the first group pen,

“These calves are all about 1 week old,” Arentsen said.

“In this pen, the calves start at six liters of milk on the feeder, and then it


For the first two days the calves move into the larger

pen, the dairymen help the calves learn how to use the automatic feeder.

“We have to show them where the nipple is at on the

feeder,” Jerry Arentsen said. “It is good to keep the size of the calves the

same, so we move the larger calves to the second pen.”

Adding the calf feeder to the operation, he said, has

been a great tool.

“We started breeding our calves earlier at about 13

months because of the feeder,” he added.

The barn has a concrete floor and it is bedded with


“We clean out the straw about once a week,” Phillip

Arentsen said. “The calf feeder automatically cleans itself four times a day,

and every day or every other day I clean the hoses.”

For ventilation in the calf barn a ventilation tube runs

the length of the barn.

“It is designed to put fresh air in the barn every 20

minutes,” the dairyman said.


Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117,

or Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.


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