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 Labor 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 labor, improving cow health and increasing milk production. For Homestead Dairy, labor was the primary concern.

“Labor has been a big issue and that’s one of the reasons we put in the robots – labor 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 labor to be part of the milking process. With two other barns in the dairy operation, the Houins can easily compare many aspects – especially labor.

“Right now, we’re saving 30-40% in our labor costs,” Brian said.

Using Dairy Robots to Make Data-Driven Decisions

Utilizing Lely robots provides Homestead Dairy with large quantities of data. The Houins like to sift through and analyze the data, trying to learn where to apply the information and how it can be used to make better decisions throughout the dairy operation.

“The amount of data we get allows us to care for a larger number of cows better than what we could twenty or thirty years ago with less cows,” explained Brian.

Brian and Jill urge Lely robot users to start believing in the information the robots provide. The Houins chose to add the dairy wellness profit index for Homestead Dairy. Selection indexes help producers choose several traits at once, taking into account genetic relationships and economic values for long-term genetic improvement in their herds.

Improved Cow Comfort Leads to Increased Milk Production

Improving cow comfort and monitoring cow health often results in more milk being produced. Increased milk production was the third benefit the Houins were looking forward to when they decided on Lely robots.

“We’re seeing about five to six pounds more milk production and with energy correction, it’s closer to six to eight pounds more,” Brian said.

Brian attributes half the increase to better cow comfort in the newer facility and the other half to less stress on the cow thanks to the robots. The increased comfort and reduced stress, combined with the data Lely robots provide, help Homestead Dairy produce milk at a more efficient rate when compared to parlor milking. To Brian, the data is key.

“When you compare milk production genomically based on actual milk, the variance is huge – so one cow’s genomic data assumes the cow will produce a lot more milk than another cow with genomic data suggesting lower milk production,” explained Brian.

Farm Details

Brian and Matt Houin and their families own and operate Homestead Dairy in Plymouth, Indiana. One of the largest automated milking dairy operations in North America, the operation uses 36 Lely Astronaut robotic milking systems to milk nearly 2,200 cows. In tandem with milking parlors, the Houins milk nearly 4,800 cows total.

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.