In 2018, Miltrim Farms, Inc. of Athens, Wisconsin, and its owner Tom Mueller began making plans to ensure a sustainable future for the dairy. Tom and his nephew, general manager David Trimner, began touring dairy operations throughout North America, planning every detail of their new barn’s layout. The result was a state-of-the-art facility the combines features from more than 20 dairies toured by the pair.

As a dairy operation that previously used only a parlor to milk their cows, Miltrim Farms had to thoroughly plan every step of transitioning to robotic milking. The total planning process took nearly four years. Deciding between rotary or robots was just one of many decisions Tom Mueller would have to make throughout the planning process.

“Our initial plan was to add a rotary, as the existing parlor was nearly 20 years old,” explained Mueller.

Designing a Barn Layout to Encourage Cow Comfort and Free-Flow Traffic

To help with the decision-making, Mueller turned to his family and staff who all agreed that robots should be part of the conversation.

The Miltrim Farms’ team toured automated dairies throughout the United States and Canada. Right away, they could see themselves running their new dairy barn with robots. Once the decision to use Lely robots was made, the next step was to create the barn to house the robots and cows.

Both cow traffic and people traffic were the main focus when designing the barn. The new facility has a long L-shaped design with a neutral pressure system. The system aids in improving air quality and added climate control. To lower electricity costs, the barn has transparent side paneling, providing a naturally bright interior. Additionally, to save on overall costs, Mueller decided against adding head locks.

Inside the barn, each free-flow pen has three Lely Astronauts A5 robotic milking systems that are arranged in a long L-shaped design. The cows have a tremendous amount of room and can roam freely throughout the pen.

Preparing the Herd for Robotic Milking

In late October 2019, Miltrim Farms started pre-training its first wave of cows, followed by a second wave later that year.

“What pre-training involved was, a full week before being milked, taking the cows and pushing them through the robot once a day," said Trimner.

Running the cows through the robots helped the cows get used to being in the enclosed area of the robot, and they were rewarded with tasty feed within the robot. Additionally, the practice helped the cows get acclimated to the speed of the robot and show the cows that being milked by robots was a positive experience.

“When we started training cows to milk, it was a lot easier to get the cows into the robots. The cows learned that the robot was going to come underneath and milk them,” Trimner said. 

Transitioning from a Parlor to Free-Flow Robotic Milking

During the first few months, employees learned a lot about the robotic milking process. With the addition of more robots on the horizon, Miltrim Farms will make some changes to run its barns even more efficiently. For starters, the operation will begin using a Lely Cosmix concentrate feeder to train all cows before moving to a robotic milking pen, instead of using the Lely Cosmix on just the pre-fresh heifers.

When we start up the next 12 robots in the future, I think the Cosmix will really help with the transition and make the cows feel more comfortable than ever," said Trimner.

Today, as Miltrim Farm’s employees walk through the new barn, they can’t help but notice how quiet and calm the environment is. The free-flow design has enhanced the herd’s lifestyle and increased overall comfort.

Farm Details

Miltrim Farms, Inc. began in 1988 with 40 cows. The dairy operation has grown considerably during the past 30 years and now includes nearly 2,500 cows and 4,800 acres of cropland. A member of the Lely Dairy XL community, Miltrim Farms utilizes 18 Lely Astronaut A5 robotic milking systems to milk 1,080 cows inside a brand new, state-of-the-art free-flow facility. With 18 robots, Miltrim Farms is the largest automated dairy operation in the state of Wisconsin.

Why Lely?

Farmers all over the world make choices about how they set up and run their farms. Every day, we help them make the best choices for themselves and their farms. We do this by providing advice and innovative solutions that contribute to efficient farm management. For sustainable milk and meat production. Present and future.