The Boettchers installed four robots on their 230-cow farm near Wykoff, Minn. Pictured (back row, from left) Curtis, Cheryle, Brian and Chad; (front) Curtis and Cheryle’s grandchildren, William and Kayla Arndorfer. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
The Boettchers installed four robots on their 230-cow farm near Wykoff, Minn. Pictured (back row, from left) Curtis, Cheryle, Brian and Chad; (front) Curtis and Cheryle’s grandchildren, William and Kayla Arndorfer.
WYKOFF, Minn. - All the Boettchers agree they like farming for the variety.
"You don't have to do the same thing every day," Curtis Boettcher said.
But for awhile, that wasn't true. The parlor the Boettchers milked their cows in was holding up their schedule and their time.
"It seemed like milking was all we were doing," Chad Boettcher said.
However, that isn't the case anymore. Now the Boettchers have four robots doing the milking for them. Curtis and Cheryle Boettcher farm together with their two sons, Brian and Chad, on their 230-cow dairy near Wykoff, Minn.
The Boettchers wanted a different milking system to help with the workload.
"We needed more time to do other things, so we had to do something different," Chad said.
The Boettchers were doing all the chores themselves with occasional help from Curtis and Cheryle's daughter, Nichole Arndorfer.
"We would need to hire help or get rid of the cows in order to stay in the parlor," Curtis said.
They knew robots would allow them to stay the same size and reduce the amount of employees needed. After visiting one farm and doing some research online, they decided on an automated milking system.
"It was a fairly quick process," Brian said about deciding on robots.
"Everybody was impressed with the robots," Chad said.
Construction to add the robots onto their freestall barn began in October 2012. By April 2013, the first cows were going through the four robots.
Since beginning to use the system in April, it has freed up more time for the Boettchers to do other things on the farm.
"It's a lot easier for one person to handle things with the milking herd," Brian said.
The Boettchers were able to do all the fieldwork this spring and fall by themselves without having someone come in to help in a tractor or in the barn.
"Usually we would have to have our sister come in to milk while we were out in the field, but that didn't happen this year," Chad said.
But the Boettchers still have to put in their time.
"Sometimes we have to come out at night," Brian said. "We're still looking over the cows."
It's also been better for the cows' demeanor.
"They're more relaxed and calm because they're milking on their own terms," Chad said.
Robots also provide more information about the cows, including when cows are in heat, rumination and production, along with other data.
Production of the herd has improved nearly 15 pounds per cow per day.
The cows adjusted to the robots very quickly, the Boettchers said. For the first 10 days of using the roots, Lely sent dairy farmers who have robots on their dairy from all over the country to the Boettchers' farm to help with the transition.
The biggest learning curve came with the computer. Chad takes care of looking over the reports.
"We had to learn how to react to reports and not over react," he said.
Since putting in the robots, the Boettchers have had a lot of visitors, including in June when nearly 1,200 people came to the Dairy Night on the Farm, which was organized by the Fillmore County American Dairy Association. The Boettchers had hosted the first one in 1993.
But the dairy had been in the family long before that. Curtis started dairy farming with his dad, Victor, in 1968 after graduating from high school. At the time, the duo were milking 40 cows with buckets. In 1972, Curtis bought the farm from his dad and continued to make improvements to the farm. In 1975, Curtis put in a pipeline, and in 1976, Curtis and Cheryle were married.
After Brian graduated from high school in 1998, he joined his dad on the farm. The same year, they retrofitted a double-10 parallel parlor into their tiestall barn and added a freestall barn in order to continue milking their 120 cows. Chad joined them a few years later in 2002, also after graduating from high school.
Robots were another way to make their farm ready for the next generation.
"It's a lot of change," said Curtis, who has milked cows in three different setups before robots. "I'm getting older and need to start slowing down. This was the best route we thought to take."
Robots are not only making their farm more efficient for the next generation, they're also helping the Boettchers keep in line with their family's farming philosophy.
"We take care of everything - the cattle and land - the best we can," Curtis said. "We're preserving it for the future."