The stress and difficulty of conventional dairying caused the Hooper family to retire and move from their farm in Syracuse, New York more than a decade ago. Now they are back, refreshed and ready to contribute to the organic dairy market with their new automated milking system.
Mike and Karen Hooper had retired from their conventional dairy farm outside of Syracuse, NY, and moved to Florida because dairying had become too stressful and difficult. But, nearly a decade later, the Hoopers read, researched and returned to New York ready to explore another path to dairying.
With organic dairy products rising in demand, the Hoopers decided to commit to organic production and new automated systems as well. They established River Ridge Dairy, built a new barn in 2010 and began milking in 2015. They started with just a few cows and increased the herd to nearly 100 before beginning the herd’s transition to certified organic. Their land was already organic.
They installed one Lely Astronaut robotic milking system and added a second robot as their herd grew.
A free-cow traffic system is used in their barn. The cows are free to eat, lie down, visit the cow brush and be milked as they wish. During the grazing season, the milking herd can wander in and out of the barn at will. A Lely Grazeway guides them to fresh pastures every 12 hours, after milking, rotating them through the 100 acres of pasture.
The cows wear collars that the robots scan when they enter for milking. The robots provide a tremendous amount of data on the cows, including butterfat and protein content of the milk, rumination times, activity level and cow metabolic data.
The Hoopers say the robots provide them with all the data they need to remotely monitor the cows, alerting them to possible health concerns sooner than they would otherwise be able to identify them which is very important for an organic dairy.
“I’m a way better farmer now than I was before using Lely robots,” said Mike Hooper. “We have healthy cows because we are getting information and data from robots. They wouldn’t be as healthy if I wasn’t getting the information the robots collect on each cow during milkings.”
“With the Lely robot, we are able to catch conductivity changes really fast,” Mike added. “So if we see a conductivity change in a cow, we will treat her with a whey product before we even see the mastitis. That is a big plus because the robot is seeing things before there is a problem. If we’re off eating dinner and something happens, the robot calls me. That’s peace of mind.”