Bos Dairy, a member of Jasper County REMC, knows how to motivate a cow. That’s because they need to—a cow’s cooperation is vital when it’s being milked by automated machines. The concept is known as a “robo-dairy,” and while the benefits are many, it does require convincing cows to walk themselves onto the platforms where they’ll be mechanically milked. So what’s the secret?
“Actually, it’s pretty much like training a dog,” said David Fischer, assistant controller at Bos Dairy. “There’s a pelletized high-energy treat that gets loaded into the baskets placed in front of them during milking. It helps them realize that milking’s a good thing, and it distracts them a little bit during the process.”
Automated milking also means less human interference, which helps the cows stay calmer and in overall better health.
“The robotic process is less stressful for them. If you’re not in there walking around and startling them, they feel a little safer,” said Fischer.
Bos Dairy has tackled the logistical challenges of operating a robo-dairy since April of 2015, when work began on the company’s automated facility. To date, they’ve installed 12 fully robotic units outfitted with LED lighting, which has allowed them to add another 700 cows to a herd of 3500. That’s a lot of cattle to keep track of, but they’ve solved that problem, too.
“All the cows are electronically monitored,” said Fischer. “They’re tagged with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips that show if a cow has already been milked, in which case it doesn’t get as many treats as a reward.”
The new LED lighting also helps keep humans out of the barn. That’s because LED lighting lasts longer and requires less maintenance. For Bos Dairy, the numbers are big: 169 LED fixtures inside of a 104,720 square foot building, and six additional LED exterior wall pack fixtures. That’s a lot of bulbs that need less changing. And with a $25,000 rebate check from POWER MOVES, they weren’t any more expensive than older, less dependable lighting.
“The incentives meant we could get a higher quality lighting product for the same price as the lower quality one. We installed LEDs in the dairy barn, but the incentives encouraged us to use them in a storage barn as well,” said Fischer. “Obviously, with a storage barn, the lighting isn’t going to affect milk production, but once we saw we could get better lighting at lower prices it was an easy choice.”
Energy Advisor Stephanie Johnson sees programs like this as an opportunity for the co-op. “It’s a benefit to the member to be able to save money on their electric bill, but it’s also a benefit to the cooperative to build relationships through the POWER MOVES programs,” said Johnson.
These relationships are further supported with the help of Wabash Valley Power.
“The POWER MOVES programs are easy to communicate to the members, and the engineering help we get from Wabash Valley Power has been imperative to the positive outcome of the efforts,” said Johnson.
Bryan Washburn, CEO and general manager at Jasper County REMC, is also focused on positive outcomes—specifically, economic ones.
“Our cooperative has always been involved in economic development,” said Washburn. “The POWER MOVES programs have helped our C&I members be more efficient and keep money in their pockets—money they can use for an additional employee, or put toward an expansion.”
Or, in the case of Bos Dairy, toward more robots. Because so far the developments there have only led to happier farmers, happier cows, and a whole lot of energy savings. It’s what keeps Fischer optimistic about the future.
“The next goal would be a full site for 2,000 cows. That’s the five-year plan,” said Fischer.