Brian Craswell is already living in the future-- at least when it comes to the dairy business.

The South Rustico farm he operates with his wife, Amber, and their three children, is one of the Canada's first fully automated dairies. While robotic milkers are becoming more and more commonplace, Crasdale Farms also has an automated feeding system that goes through the free stall barn ten or 12 times a day to make sure his herd is well fed.

"It is certainly something I never envisioned when I started farming," said Brian. "We were in a position where it was time to upgrade our barn and we sat down and did the math and this made sense for us."

The second week of August was a particularly busy time at the farm. First, they hosted a producer tour organized by DeLaval (the company that installed the system), followed by an open house to the public. They held a cattle sale the next day and they also took part the same weekend in the Atlantic Summer Classic Holstein show in Charlottetown.

The automated feeding system was installed a little over seven months ago, giving the Craswells the status of having the first fully automated barn in Canada outfitted by DeLaval. Brian said it is working out extremely well, leading not only to happier cows but to happier farmers, since it allows the family to have a more flexible schedule.

The feeding product specialist with DeLaval explained the milking and feeding systems in the barn are fully integrated. Travis Grubb worked with Brian and Amber to set up the system, which is entirely computer controlled. The Craswells also have a system called Herd Navigator, which is designed to monitor the entire herd for problems like mastitis.

Grubb said the only human input required in the system is to load the rations into the tanks, noting the system accommodates both feed bags (which the Craswells use) or can be used with a tower silo. The mixing formula is programmed into the system and the mixing happens automatically. Then, the feed goes along a conveyor belt to the robotic feeder, which makes a circle around the barn dispensing feed.

"Cows thrive on consistency and this takes the possibility of human error out of the system," Grubb said.

It is a well worn truth in the dairy industry that well-fed cows produce more milk. While the system is obviously a significant capital outlay, Brian is confident it will pay for itself over time in such things as less waste and reduced labour costs. Grubb agrees, saying the average waste in convention feeding systems is somewhere in the range of 10 per cent, but with an automated feeder, "the only waste is what the cows don't eat, and that is typically in the one to two per cent range."

It also ensures each group of cows gets the right amount of feed, no matter where in the lactation cycle they are.

Amber added the system is adaptable, noting they recently incorporated 25 new animals into the feeding regime. She said the system is relatively simple to use. Grubb added letting robotics do the work gives the producer more time to look ahead and plan for changes in the feed formula for each cow for days and weeks down the road.

Brian has no doubt barns like his will become the rule rather than the exception in relatively short order. He explained"'as more and more people are looking at replacing their barns, I am sure they will do the math like we did and if it makes sense, they will go with it."

Grubb agreed, indicated 50-75 per cent of the dairy equipment sold last year was robotic "so more and more producers are obviously embracing it."

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