Ask fourth generation dairy farmers Brian and Matt Houin of Plymouth, Indiana, about their history and they will tell you it goes back a long way. Brian’s father and uncle bought the current farm from their grandfather in 1979. At the time when brothers Floyd and Dan took over, about 110 cows were being milked at Homestead Dairy. Today, cousins Brian and Matt Houin milk close to 4,800 cows across three different facilities.
“Before robots, we were milking in three facilities with 3,200 cows. We knew that if we wanted to stay in the dairy business long-term, we would need something to help increase our efficiency,” Brian said.
Reducing Labour Needs and Costs with Lely Robotic Milking
Prior to building their latest barn, the Houins were exploring the possibility of adding a new rotary dairy when a friend suggested robots. When weighing the benefits of robotic milking, three main factors were top of mind: managing the rising costs of labour, improving cow health and increasing milk production. For Homestead Dairy, labour was the primary concern.
“Labour has been a big issue and that’s one of the reasons we put in the robots – labour is hard to find and hard to keep,” Brian said.
The Houins have been milking about 2,200 cows in their new automated facility since 2017. To assist in the milking are 36 Lely Astronaut robotic milking systems. Additionally, Homestead Dairy employs six workers (three during the day, three during the night) as well as two veterinarians to care for the herd. Finally, two mechanics help with maintenance and one night manager oversees the operation. In total, 11 employees look after 2,200 cows in the single facility.
“When compared to our conventional dairy, we have nine employees just getting cows milked versus the six total handling 400 more cows,” Brian said.
With Lely robots, Homestead Dairy eliminates the need for labour to be part of the milking process. With two other barns in the dairy operation, the Houins can easily compare many aspects – especially labour.
“Right now, we’re saving 30-40% in our labour costs,” Brian said.