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Producing Excellence

Gordon Dick

McBain, MI

Dick Haven Farms

Products: Dairy

Size of Operation: 260 milking cows

In Business Since: 1982

Farm Credit Partner: GreenStone Farm Credit Services

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2005

Being a dairyman is hard work. Cows need to be milked multiple times every single day of the year –rain or shine, holiday or sick day. Gordon Dick knows this first hand, growing up working on the family dairy with his father and now managing it himself. With an eye toward keeping his own sons interested in continuing the family business, Gordon recently installed a robotic milking system that drops his manual labor dramatically and has actually improved production.

“I’d gotten up at 2 or 3 in the morning to milk cows every day for the last 25 years,” said Gordon. “When it was time to replace our outdated and somewhat crowded milking parlor, I started researching this robotic system because I knew that it would mean my kids would have an easier time of it.”

The system relies on simple motivation: cows learn to walk themselves into the milking parlor when they feel the urge to be milked, receiving nutrient rich and special flavored pellets as a reward. Along the way, a personal identification microchip lets the parlor’s computer system know which cow has entered. The robot knows, then, exactly where the teats are located on the udder and efficiently milks the animal, measuring production so Gordon can track it on a per-animal as well as overall basis.

“It took a few months for the cows to adjust to the new routine, and it’s just continually getting better,” says Gordon. “We’d been getting 90 – 92 pounds of milk a day before, now it’s up over 100 pounds each, and I’m hoping to see it increase even further.” One reason for the increase is that cows are milked so efficiently and at will; some are coming in up to five times a day, although the average is three milkings each – all done with no human involvement.

That doesn’t mean that Gordon isn’t paying attention. In fact, now that he spends less time milking his cows, he can spend more time listening to them via the extensive data pulled by the milking system. “I know how often each cow comes in and how much she produces each time,” says Gordon. “I also know things like when each cow is in heat and even how much they chew their cud to make sure they have proper rumination.”

With the new, Farm Credit-funded robotic milking system in place, Gordon can sleep through the night knowing his animals are being cared for, and perhaps sleep even better knowing his sons are more interested than ever in keeping the family operation going. Adding icing to the cake, Gordon recently bought a neighbor’s dairy operation and installed another robotic system, again with Farm Credit financing.

“We just want to have a nice family farm, ship the best milk we can, and hopefully have time to enjoy with our family,” says Gordon.

Download a PDF version of this story here.