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Family likes MIone robot

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 12/12/2012 9:05 PM

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DECORAH, Iowa — It's been almost a year since Matt and Jolene Nierling started milking with a GEA MIone robotic milking system on their farm north of Decorah. As the first North American installation, the operation serves as a test farm.

They started milking with the MIone on Dec. 9, Jolene's birthday. All the cows were being milked by the robot by the end of the year.

The MIone has one robotic arm that travels between boxes. Each box has its own milking claw and 3D camera. One robot can handle five boxes, the Nierlings have three.

The Nierlings use a free flow system with cows coming and going as they want. When a cow comes to the box, the computer reads the transponder around its neck. If it's not time for milking, nothing happens. If it's time, milking proceeds.

The Nierlings like that this system only attaches to the cow's teats once. It washes in the same cup that's used for milking.

"It washes teats, strips out a little milk that goes into a separate jar and then a blow of air purges out the system before the good milk flow starts," Jolene said. "That milk goes into a second jar."

MI stands for milking intelligence, said Greg Larson, MIone sales expert with GEA Farm Technologies. He answered questions at an open house sponsored by Iowa State University Extension early this fall.

"The prmilking procedures are very similar to how you prep cows in a tie-stall or parlor," Larson said. "We have a no-compromise milking philosophy which allows the MIone to apply oxycide, a 1 percent hydrogen peroxide FDA approved predip. The patented bleed-block-bleed valve assembly allows us to protects against contaminants like predip and soil load from getting into the milk supply."

Herd production has increased slightly, somatic cell count has dropped, and the lifestyle changes are huge, said the Nierlings.

They have three children, Hailey, 12, Ashley, 9, and Justin, 7.

"The kids played softball all summer, and we didn't miss a game," Jolene said. "We set up our daily schedule to make it to the game. The cows never had to wait for us. They get milked when they want."

When the Nierlings built their sand bedded free-stall barn four years ago, they continued milking in their 46-stall tie-stall barn. They were switching cows three times per milking.

"We knew we'd do something, but we weren't sure what," Jolene said. "Shortly after we put the barn up, robotics got really hot. After what we heard and read, we knew this was the way we wanted to go."

Before making their decision, they toured European farms using the MIone.

"We were impressed by what we saw," Jolene said. "This is good for our size of farm. It's manageable for Matt and me to do on our own."

Brickl Brothers built both the free-stall barn and the addition, which houses the robotic milking system, office, milk house, utility room and bathroom. Midwest Livestock Systems of Pine Island, Minn., installed the MIone equipment.

The Nierlings manage the cows differently with the robot.

"We spend more time walking though looking at the cows, looking at the computer," Jolene said. "You don't have those hours spent in the barn in the heat and the cold."

"You lose the hands-on contact with the cow and rely more on information from the computer," Matt said. "You learn to trust it."

Both Jolene and Matt are graduates of Northeast Iowa Community College. They leased cows from Matt's parents to build their herd and purchased the farm in 2005. They now milk 150 Holsteins and grow 300 acres of corn and hay. Matt's parents, Dean and Ardie, help.

The MIone calls Matt's cell phone first if there is a problem. Jolene is second in the list. With cameras in each milking box and around the barn, they can log onto the computer to find the problem.

The system allows them to attach milkers manually if needed, like a herringbone parlor. Jolene likes having that option if there is a skittish fresh heifer. They manually attach an old cow with a very low udder and a cross-teated cow.

"We do them at the same time that we spray the boxes," Jolene said. "They often are standing here waiting for us."

Jolene said being a test farm has been a good experience.

"GEA is developing new products that we're testing," she said. "We give the engineers the farmer side of using the products."