Worldwide ‘Open Farm Days’ comes to Nor-Bert Farms

Local dairy hosts ‘open farm’ to show robotic system
BREMEN — There are robots that assemble things in factories, robots that perform surgery and robots have even found their way into the milking industry.
That’s why Nor-Bert Farms (7081 1B Road) in Bremen, is opening its doors to the public for an “open farm” event to demonstrate the Lely Astronaut A4.
The dairy farm, begun with six cows in 1945 by Norman and the late Bertha Krathwohl was named after both the owners and was later managed by their daughter Deb and her husband Roger Dankert. Now Norman also can call his grandchildren his co-workers as Jeremy Dankert and sister Jennifer (and her husband Monty) Freeman do their part on the family dairy farm. Someday Jennifer’s children Dalton, Dillon and Breanne may take on the task but for now, its taken care of by the adults and their robots.
The Netherlands-based company Lely was started by Cornelis and Arij van der Lely, brothers that grew up on a farm, brainstorming ways to alleviate their hard labor. They came up with fertilizer spreaders and power harrows to make the job a little easier and in turn, the second generation of brothers, (Cornelius’ sons) Olaf and Alexander van der Lely (now the company CEO) brought robotic milking to the dairy world in 1992.
“My father didn’t really want to hear about it at first,” explained Deb Dankert. “We had visited the family our son went to stay with during an FFA trip in the Netherlands and they showed us their robot in 1999. I had done a lot of research on it but we couldn’t win him over.”
She kept her eye on the progression and collected data from dairy farmers that were using the technology and then read the story of a farm in Pennsylvania on the forefront of bringing it to the states. That data and persuasion of Roger and Deb and a change of heart later brought Krathwohl to give his blessing that the latest in dairy farming advancement be brought to his farm.
Now one of three dairies in the state using the revolutionary system (and owning three of the 15,000 sold in the world), Nor-Bert Farms regularly sees visitors from all over the country and often from other parts of the world who want to tour and see what the robotic machines can do. The United States began bringing robots into the industry in 2000 and in Bremen, they have been doing the job since 2012.
“We just had our two-year anniversary Aug. 10,” explained Dankert. “We ‘parlour-milked’ before but this has made such a difference. … We have three (Astronauts) and they’ve replaced two people milking two times a day at six hours each time.”
And the 140 milking cows seem to enjoy it just as much. “They can come and go as they please,” Dankert explained. “It is much less stressful for them and happy cows are good-milking cows.”
The robotic system includes a swinging trough system which is offered to the cow after she enters the walkthrough I-flow concept. While enjoying the “candy” — or better-flavored food — the machine reads her identification collar to determined which it is and then notes when she last milked. If she did recently and has not had the time to be able to offer more, it does not milk, but moves the trough away. With no business there, the cow walks through the open “door” in front of them which then closes when another (ready and able) cow steps into the gated area and begins feeding on the treat prior to its milking.
“Sometimes they are waiting in line,” said Dankert. “Other times one will try to come back before it’s her time but the machine will know and she won’t get offered any more ‘candy.’”
If a cow is recognized as being ready to give milk, the swinging doors close at both ends and a robotic arm with laser-guided suction cups positions underneath the animal. The lasers determine quickly and one-by-one the height and distance of each teat which allows for accuracy and less stress on the animal. Before the cups align and attach themselves jets of a water and peroxide solution wash the udder and teats, then small brushes spin while massaging the area before air is dispersed, drying them for the milking process. The milking itself takes about four minutes and when it is determined that they have given what they can the trough swings away and the door again opens allowing for the animal to exit and go about their day — the process of which can be watched the entire time. The milk goes through tubes, into a large glass bottle, then through pipes taking it across the barn, filtering and cooling it before it is deposited into a large tank, which is later taken from by a dairy tanker operator.
“We get an average of 93 pounds of milk per cow each day,” Dankert explained. “Some of them are milked six times a day, it all depends on the cow.”
But the robotic machines don’t do it all, humans have the ultimate control and read the data regularly to best manage the herd. And while they robots may not do it all, they do clean the entire system and themselves, several times a day.
“It is a huge labor-saver,” explained Dankert of the robotic system. “It makes for happier cows which produce better quality milk, and higher milk production with lower operating costs.”
The “open farm,” hosted by Lely distributor KAEB Sales Inc. Wakarusa, and the Dankerts will take place Saturday, Sept. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nor-Bert Farms is located south of U.S. 6 behind the State Police Post on Miami Road. To learn more call 574-862-2777, visit online or find “Meet Nor-Bert Farms” on YouTube.