February 2, 2017
Let it never be said that a dairyman can’t solve problems.
Markus Legge, an organic dairy farmer from Monschau, Germany, wanted to better use his farm’s 200 pasture acres. But like many in Europe, his farm was in a small village, and those pastures were over a mile away down a busy tourist-filled road.
This made daily movement of his herd’s 125 Holstein, Brown Swiss cross, Simmental and Belgian Blues quite an adventure. He needed two to three people each day to move the cows from farm to pasture and back after milking.
Then he read a magazine story about robotic milkers and wanted to give it a try. Working with experts at Lely, in 2009 he set up two pasture-based robots complete with feed mill, tank room and a small office. During summer, cows are milked on pasture 24/7; in winter the 8-ton robots are lifted by crane and brought back to the farm. The entire project cost about $421,000.
Cows welcome change
The cows seem to think it’s a good idea. The robotic milkers are powered by an underground power cable, and a truck comes by every three days to collect milk. Too much rain or the occasional freak snowstorm can cause problems.
“When it rains, the wind is blowing and it’s cold, cows do not go to the robot,” he says. “It’s a challenge.”
Cows get moved to fresh pasture each day and produce an average of 20 liters (44 pounds) daily, about 30% less than average German dairy cows. Legge buys less than half the amount of feed concentrate he used to, but the organic concentrate he does buy is more expensive.
Legge was driven to organic for the growing demand and higher milk prices — as much as double the conventional price — despite lower production.
“You get a better milk premium, and you get EU money for organic land,” he says. He also gets bonus money for quality and butter fat indicators.
The longer he’s used this system, the more he likes it. That’s because unlike most dairy producers, he actually has free time. He jokes that the summers are a lot easier and give him time to focus on other issues like fertility.
“Free time is one of the main reasons for this system,” he says. “Robots give you freedom. You are not stuck with fixed milking times that dictate your day.”
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