The Wiegels use fans custom-designed for the tunnel ventilation system in their new freestall barn near South Wayne, Wisconsin.
The Wiegels use fans custom-designed for the tunnel ventilation system in their new freestall barn near South Wayne, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    SOUTH WAYNE, Wis. – While robots are the newest technology in the dairy world for milking cow, they are not new to the Wiegels, who retrofitted four robotic milking units into their barn in 2008.
    “That barn was getting old, and there were getting to be a lot of issues in there,” Jack Wiegel said. “We just decided it was time for an update.”
    The Wiegels – Jack and Larry, along with Jack’s sons, Jason and Brian – updated by building a new freestall barn and upgrading their robots. They installed five of the A5 version of their Lely Astronaut robots Feb. 17 on their 280-cow dairy, Riverside Dairy, near South Wayne. The barn has the ability to have a sixth robot added to allow for additional cows.
    Along with Argall Dairy Systems, the Wiegels are hosting an open house to showcase their new facility and robotic milking system from 1 to 5 p.m. June 11.
    On display will be the barn with four rows of free stalls, allowing the Wiegels to have two outside aisles away from the stalls for feeding.  
    “This design makes the barn wider, but we went this direction because it gave us the ability to have one centrally located robot room,” Jack said. “We had two robot rooms in the old barn, and we always thought that having one room would be preferable.”
    The Wiegels cite ease and infrastructure savings as the biggest benefits they have seen to having the single robot room.    
    The barn is designed to be identical from one side to the other, allowing the Wiegels to have their cows in two groups. There is a 16-stall area for special needs and fresh cows near the robot room on each side. Part of the side of the barn that has only two robots is being used as a pack area for pre-fresh cows. When the Wiegels decide to add their sixth robot, that area will be turned into free stalls.
    The robot used for the special needs area is also able to milk cows from the main group using separation gates.
    “The way this is set up, it makes training heifers so much easier too,” Jack said. “They are right here close to the robots.”
    Those gates also serve as a useful tool in sorting cows for herd health checks. The Wiegels are able to program which cows they would like sorted.
    “Having the cows sorted from the robot using the sort gates is a huge time-saver,” Jack said. “You don’t have to go searching for certain cows throughout the free stalls. Then when we are ready for a cow to leave the special needs area, we just need to program into the computer for the gate to send her back out into the main group.”
    Transitioning the cows to the new barn and robots went much easier and smoother than their first transition 13 years ago.
    “They really took to the new barn and the new set-up for the robots really quickly,” Larry said. “It took the cows maybe two days to get used to the new facility and system.”
    At the time of the transition, the Upper Midwest was in the throes of a multi-week deep-freeze, but Jack credited the design of the barn for allowing it to warm up quickly and stay above freezing once the cows were settled.
    “We are really able to keep the climate controlled,” Jack said. “We can keep it cool in the hot months and above freezing in the cold months.”
    The Wiegels wanted the new barn to be tunnel ventilated and insulated with the lowest roof possible.
    When designing their ventilation system, the Wiegels procured variable-speed fans custom-made by Rite Hite Company.
    “My nephew is an engineer at Rite Hite, and he designed those fans for us and had them built,” Jack said. “We have four ceiling fans that he designed in the old barn too.”
    A manure separator allows the Wiegels to collect and dry the manure solids for use as bedding. Each alley has a scraper equipped with a tube in the center to funnel liquid away and into the underground pit where the manure pumps liquids both up and around.
    “In the old barn, we had a manure separator with a flush system,” Jack said. “But we like this so much better. Before, the cows’ feet were always so dirty and wet, and they tracked manure into the stalls. Now, the alleys stay so clean and dry, and the cows are cleaner too.”
    They are now using the old barn as a heifer and dry cow facility.  
    When the Wiegels first made the decision to install robotic milkers, Jack and Larry were milking about 125 cows in a parallel parlor.
    They considered expanding but neither wanted to grow to the point of needing to employ outside labor. Retrofitting their existing facility to house four robotic milking units and expand their herd to 240 cows made the most sense to the brothers.
    “No person can be as reliable or as consistent in milking the cows as the robots can be,” Larry said. “Jack and I were at the point we didn’t want to be doing the milking, but we also didn’t want to hire anyone to milk either.”
    Regardless of what version of robots the Wiegels have used, they have realized since 2008 robots have been the right fit. And the new facility enhances the herd even more.
    “The cows are so calm, not being moved around chased to the parlor twice a day,” Larry said. “They do what they want to do, when they want to do it. The barn is just so relaxed and quiet.”