It’s Not Old MacDonald’s Farm Anymore.

Growing up on a dairy farm, I learned the value of hard work and the importance of putting in a hard days work. As I’ve explained to my own kids, sometimes you have to do a job you hate or a task that’s boring and repetitive just because it needs to get done. Not every job can be rewarding and fun. These are some of the lessons I learned on the farm…. Unfortunately, I also learned that sometimes if you cut corners and skip parts of a job you can get done quicker and there’s a chance no one will notice (at least not until after you’ve gone out with your friends for the night). Even if you’re not a slacker teenager, there are often more jobs on a dairy farm than there are hours in a day, so farmers have had to prioritize which jobs get done and which ones get left if time runs out.

It’s true that successful farmers work hard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the most successful farmers  are the hardest working. Early in my sales career, I had a dairy farmer customer who had a typical tiestall barn with a gutter and a sprocket drive stable cleaner. If you’ve never seen one, it carries the manure and bedding up a chute and dumps it on a pile outside the barn. This elderly farmer would park his manure spreader directly under the stable cleaner chute so that the manure  fell onto the back of the wagon, where he would stand with a pitch fork and fork it up to the front. As a rookie sales rep, I wasn’t about to point out that we could back up the spreader another 8 feet….

There have been many new inventions for use on farms as well as many adaptations of technology from other industries for dairy farming that have taken some of the drudgery out of some of the most routine tasks. I am a fan of technology and for me there are some clear no-brainers when it comes to investing in time savers and profit makers. I am purposely avoiding the whole area of robotic milking, as it’s a topic all on it’s own but, for the record, I am generally a fan. Here are some of my favorite tech tools for dairy farmers.

Pushing feed up for cows encourages them to eat more and farmers have used lots of tools, from snow shovels to blades on lawn tractors to modified alley scrappers to push up fresh feed for cows as many as 18 times/day. Studies suggest that milk production can go up from 0.5 – 1.0 L/cow/day just from the increase in feed intake resulting from pushing up feed every few hours. In theory, this job doesn’t require a robot – hence the snow shovel, but there’s lots of other jobs that need to be done, never mind the time between midnight and 5 a.m. Now that robot isn’t cheap – at a cost of around $20,000, I could buy my wife a new car, so does the robot really pay? For a 70 cow dairy, an additional 0.5 L/cow adds up to about 13,000 L/year X $0.80/L that returns about $10,000 /year minus some operating costs, this robot looks like about a 2 1/2 year payback. Sorry Dear, no new car. A robotic feed pusher is a no-brainer.

Feed is the largest input cost on a dairy farm and this includes purchased feed as well as home grown forages. As a nutritionist, feed waste and spoilage are pet peeves (as are people who insist on using coupons in the express checkout, I mean jeez!) With bunker silos becoming more and more common on dairy farms, managing the bunker “face” or the exposed edge is very important. I have known farmers who became very adept at using a front end loader to keep a smooth, flat surface, but now there’s a tool that would make it possible for even me to reduce feed waste… For a 60 cow dairy, a 10% improvement in forage waste can be as much as $8,000/year – that’s a no-brainer.

Cleaner cows are happier cows and they love to be brushed. It’s not uncommon to walk into a dairy barn  and see cows waiting for a turn at the automatic cow brush. These brushes are motion activated and remove dirt, loose hair and help with fly control. At a cost of $2,000 – $2,500 for 60 cows, another no-brainer,

If you have ever tried an iRobot vacuum you’ll love this next innovation – It’s a Roomba on steroids! One of the things you’ll rarely see in a milk commercial or on #Farm365 is the other product that cows produce in abundance – manure. Every farm kid knows how to use a shovel or pitch fork, but this robot is always on the job and creates a cleaner environment which is a plus for cow health and milk quality. Kind of a no-brainer.

I’m all for farm kids having chores, working hard learning good work ethic and I’m sure that even with these innovations, there are still lots of jobs for them on a dairy farm and you’ll probably need their help programming and trouble shooting all of the gadgets on the farm. Kind of  a no-brainer.

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