Change isn’t easy. Making the decision to change can be even harder. As we look toward the future, change is a must to set the farm up for continued success and provide an opportunity for our boys to farm should they desire to do so. As we took these things into consideration, we knew that some things on our farm were going to have to change. Sticking to the status quo of what we were doing was not going to cut it. Our focus on this change was modernization, not growth. We knew that through modernization we could increase milk production, improve herd health, improve reproduction and improve income. We did not see the need to increase cattle numbers to accomplish this.

Winch christina
Dairy Producer / Fennimore, Wisconsin

Our desire to modernize began in 2015 with our calf barn. Part of this modernization plan was to build a new calf barn and update the way we were raising calves. After touring different barns, talking with experts and reading research, the decision was made to install an automated calf feeder and use group housing. Working with the technology associated with the calf feeder allowed us to get comfortable with automation and all that goes into it. As we adjusted to automation with our calves, it was time to consider the next step in our modernization goal – the milking facility.

Fast-forward to 2018, and it’s time to do something with the milking facility. We used the same process to decide how we wanted to build the new facility as we did with the calf barn. We toured other farms, attended workshops and talked to farmers. The decision was made to build at a green site on the farm and not try to remodel our current parlor. There were several factors that played into this, including being land-locked and close to a creek. When the dirt started moving, the plans for a freestall barn, new manure pit and four robots were being finalized. We were well on our way to phase two of modernizing our farm.

It's been eight years since we started down this road and five years since it was finalized. The learning curve at times was steep, but overall worth it. As I reflect on those years, there are several things we have learned. They include:

  • How to use a smartphone. I know this one sounds silly, but we did not get smartphones until shortly before we built the robot barn. The old flip ones worked great for us. Along with this comes learning how to use all the apps associated with our technology.
  • Fewer transitions on calves leads to increased growth and stronger animals. We have always calved in two seasons – spring and fall. As we modernized, we kept this in place with a few minor tweaks. This allows our calves to stay in one group for four to five months before they have a major transition. There are minor transitions in the calf barn, first being from the individual calf pens to the autofeeder around 7 days old. There is also another transition as they are weaned, but they stay in the same group. By not being moved as part of the weaning process, we don’t see a setback in growth. Their growth has been strong, they have been healthy, which leads to stronger, healthier cows with good milk production.
  • You don’t have to increase cattle numbers to increase production. We have seen an increase in production from about 60 pounds per cow per day to an average of 88 pounds per day. No major changes were made to our feeding, breeding or health programs. Having freestalls built and laid out for ultimate cow comfort, continuous feed pushed up and being better able to monitor cows has led to increased production.
  • When you don’t have to milk, you can focus on the cows. We spend more time monitoring heats, breeding at the right time when the cows are in heat, monitoring health and studying the data gathered by the activity collars. There is also more time available to study sire summaries to help us pick the bulls best suited for our farm.
  • When you don’t have to milk, you can focus on other things on the farm. During hay-making season, we don’t have to stop and go milk cows. We can continue the process, allowing us to cover more acres in a day. As a result of this, we can make higher-quality forages. Having higher-quality forages to feed the cows has aided in increased milk production.
  • Self-care is important to managing the farm. We are able to join friends at a decent time for dinner out at a restaurant or even get away for a few hours without worrying about being home to milk cows. These little opportunities to socialize and get some relaxation in have been beneficial for our family, marriage and the farm.

There is still plenty to do in both the calf barn and milking facility daily. With modernization, we can adjust when those things are done if we have a family reunion, ball game, are making hay and whatever else life throws at us. When our children were younger, I sat through many sporting events alone as my husband stayed home because of milking. Today, we travel together watching our youngest excel as an athlete.


Making the decision to modernize was one of the best decisions we have made on our farm. As our boys are getting ready to branch out into the adult world, we are confident that they can see an opportunity to come home and farm if they want. Don’t let fear of all the technology in dairy keep you from modernizing and setting your farm up for the next generation. Embrace the technology and embrace the rewards.