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Tuesday June 6, 2017 Edition
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Robotic Milking System Now In Use At The Sunderland Farm

Beau Sunderland knows robotic collection system.
photo by Mike Cameron
Beau Sunderland knows robotic collection system.
Cows visit milking robot, they’re in, milked automatically and out.
photo by Mike Cameron
Cows visit milking robot, they’re in, milked automatically and out.
Sunderland Farm robotic milking magic.
photo by Mike Cameron
Sunderland Farm robotic milking magic.
Father & son looking to the future of robotic milking.
photo by Mike Cameron
Father & son looking to the future of robotic milking.

Tuesday June 6, 2017

By Mike Cameron

Bob Sunderland is sold on the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system.  He and his family are now utilizing four of these amazing, computer assisted, precision engineered, robots to milk their cows; all 180-plus head of them.  The Sunderland family is proud of their Agricultural Heritage.  Bob's father Larry Sunderland, uncle Harold Sunderland, and aunt Linda Sunderland Forbes have every reason to be proud of their daily farm and its history of quality award winning milk.   
    We recently visited their brand new state-of-the-art free-stall barn off Crown Point Road in Bridport and were taken on a jaw-dropping trip into the future of dairy farming.  But first we sat down with Bob and his young son Beau, along with their family dog at the Sunderland Family kitchen table for a brief crash course on the tour we were about to take.
    Bob explained that family interest in employing robotics at their farm had been growing for some time. “The first thing that got us looking at it, was the potential labor force and the struggles of keeping good help on farms.  I think that was the biggest thing for me.  We knew that the robotic systems have been out there for a while. I had never seen them work until we went to the Vander Wey Farm about six years ago and saw them work.  It was an Open House that they were putting on at their farm.  Now we have the same system, just a different generation,” Bob explained.
    The Voice then asked Bob what exactly it was like to see cows milked robotically for the first time. “It was amazing. First of all the cows know that pellet of grain is in there and it entices them to go in.  They walk right in.  There is some normal pressure in the udder that urges them to be milked as well and they go in,” Bob recalls.
    In essence, the animals have their innate natural urge to be milked and this natural process is aided by advanced robotic technology but there's more, much more to this process.  It's a simple start.  “The grain is the key to the process,” Bob explained further with a knowing smile.
    The system will dispense just enough grain to keep the cows occupied while they are being milked and when a sensor behind their left ear is read by the unit's computer that they are done, the grain pellets stop, the gate to the robotic milking unit opens and cows walk out into the free stall barn to rest, drink water, feed, chew their cud and make more milk.  Another cow now will take her place.  So let's follow her in, shall we.  
    Once in position and calmly munching grain pellets contentedly, the new arrival's udder and teats are washed with a rotating brush attached to a carbon-fiber and stainless steel robotic arm. The robot then attaches the cups to the teats, back, then front and the milking process begins. The milk is first pumped into a large glass receiver jar from the cow and then eventually to a bulk storage tank for transport to a milk processing facility.  We see these trucks on the road every day here in Addison County and their drivers have some of the safest driving records in the trucking industry.  
    Meanwhile back at the barn, cow number 189 is done with her milking.  The big Holstein will get a final udder and teat cleaning while in the box and then simply walks out of the robot space, through the gate and on to her next event of the day.  Perhaps she'll choose a nice rub from a large rotary cow activated brush as her next stop before finding her favorite spot on a fresh bed of sawdust.  First a drink of water,  a bite or two of feed and eventually a restful relaxing cud chew.  Forage is always nearby and fresh water.  Let's call this, milk in progress.  
The process is all done automatically and robotically.
The only humans in the Sunderland's brand new free-stall barn are Bob, his son Beau and this writer and we are just observing.  The atmosphere is very calm and very quiet.  When the animals need to be milked... they are.  The process is orderly and coordinated.  The four Lely Astronauts are doing their job.
    During the milking process, each cow's production numbers are recorded using algorithms within the Lely Astronaut's computer system.  All four of the units on the Sunderland Farm are digitally tracking, measuring, weighing, analyzing and storing data to be used in the milk management process at the farm.  Everything we have mentioned so far results in manageable digital data that can be used for future reference by Bob and his family.
    The computer screen tells the story of ongoing and past activity in the barn and how the cows are doing.  “We have seen an increase in pounds per cow so far,” Bob observes.  As of this publication, the new era at the Sunderland Farm is going very well.
    Our special thanks to Bob Sunderland for giving Voice readers some insight into the future of Dairy Robotics in our county and our state. To Bob and his wife Nancy, their four daughters; Brittany, Abigail, Vanessa, Laila and son Beau our best wishes to each of you for a bright and prosperous future.


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