Technology Helps Farmers Concentrate on Cow Care and Comfort

Connie and Wayne Nischke along with their family work on and operate Back 40 Acres. Front row (left to right): Kayla Coehoorn, Connie Nischke and Ashley Nischke. Back row: Daivd Coehoorn, Wayne Nischke and Ricky Mikle. – Submitted photo

By Sara Tischauser

While farming may not be an easy occupation, for those who farm it is a way of life.
Connie Nischke said her and her husband Wayne bought the Nischke family farm from Wayne’s parents in 1991. Wayne’s parents, John and Dixie Nischke, bought the farm in 1965. Now, Connie and Wayne are joined on the farm by their daughter and son-in-law Kayla and David Coehoorn and daughter Ashley Nischke and her fiancé Ricky Mikle. The farm is called Back 40 Acres.
Connie said when they first bought the farm in 1991 they were milking 60 cows but have now increased their milking herd to 120 milking cows.
One of the reasons Connie said they were able to increase their herd size was because of an update they did to their facility.
“Our daughter Kayla showed an interest in farming full-time, so [we] started looking at a new facility,” Connie said.
As they were looking at new facilities, Connie said they looked at facilities that had robots. The Nischke’s made the decision to get two DeLaval VMS robots. Connie said they moved into their new barn with the DeLaval robots in 2017. Each of the robots can milk about 60 cows and with the robots, Connie said they are able to concentrate on other areas of the operation.
Connie said when they first started milking with the robots people told her it must be nice that she and Wayne could retire, but she said they haven’t retired. Instead she said they concentrate more on the cows and their health and can spend time looking at each cow’s output and have the time to look at and make sure cows are okay.
The computer system with the robots allow Kayla to monitor each cow in the herd. Connie said if there are any problems the computer notifies Kayla. These notifications can be if a cow hasn’t been milked, if production is down from the previous day and so on.
The robot also notifies Kayla if there are any issues with the actual robot. There is a camera on the robot so Kayla can look at the robot to see what is going on.
A nice thing Connie said with the robots is that the milker milks each teat separately so the robot will stop milking when each teat is done instead of waiting for all four teats to be done milking before it stops milking. By stopping the milking of each teat when it is done milking it allows for the cow to not be overmilked. Connie said overmilking can have a negative effect on the cow’s teat and udder health.
Each cow has a chip that the robot reads and then everything for the cow is recorded in the computer. With this system the computer can read if the cow has had any antibiotics and if it has, the robot will automatically dump the milk so that it does not go into the tank with the rest of the milk to be picked up.
Connie said this is only one of the safety checks to make sure the milk is safe for consumption.
“Before our milk is put in tanker for delivery it is tested for antibiotics,” Connie said. “It [milk] would be dumped if there were any antibiotics.”
With the robots helping with the milking, Connie said they have been able to concentrate on other areas.
“We have concentrated on more cow comfort,” Connie said. “This is important on dairy side to get better production.”
She said the cows have sand bedding, constant access to food and water, fans to keep the barn at a constant temperature, no flies in the summer, and a constant supply of fresh air that comes into the barn.
One of the difficult parts of dairy farming Connie said is the low milk prices. She said there can be a financial burden to running a farm.
“Financial burden can be a struggle,” Connie said. “You just have to be creative.”
Finding more sources of income for the farm is one of the things Connie said they have done. She said they do some custom machinery repair and some custom field work.
Another thing Connie said they did was grow the cash crop side of their farming business to help bring in more money. However, Connie said right now the crop prices are not very high either.
With all the financial struggles and low prices, Connie said it can be difficult at times.
“They keep saying tighten your belt, but I think it’s been tightened enough,” Connie said. “Hopefully things will change for the farmer. We are eternal optimist and feel things will change soon.”
Connie said with the struggles they are facing she is glad they are able to continue to farm even if it means that some of the family must work off the farm to make additional money. She said it is sad to see some of the older farmers struggling to make a living farming.
“I feel bad for older [farmers] who use their savings to stay afloat,” Connie said.
The weather also can play a big factor in farming and can at times make farming difficult. Winter, Connie said, brings ice and snow and subzero temperatures and regardless what the weather is chores still need to be done and the cows need to be checked on.
Last year, Connie said they had a late spring but were still able to get the crops in. Then summer was hot and dry and the harvest season brought rain and mud. Connie said because of the rainy fall they weren’t able to plant a lot of wheat and what they planted was planted late. Due to the later planting, Connie said they are not sure if the wheat germinated, so she said they will have to wait until this spring to see how their crops will do.
Even with all the struggles, Connie said farming is a way of life that her family has enjoyed and she sees the value in raising a family on a farm. Farming, Connie said, teaches hard work and she said it is sad that not everyone can experience the farming way of life to learn what hard work is.
“It’s hard to see these young kids not have chores to do and see value of hard work,” Connie said.
The important role farmers have of providing food for people, Connie said has been lost on some of society.
“It’s amazing even in the rural area how far removed we are from the actual food,” Connie said. “So many young people don’t know how food gets to grocery store. Kids don’t know how far removed they are from the farm.”
To help increase the knowledge the farm plays in food production, Connie said they do tours on the farm so children can come to the farm and learn. She said there are still children who come to the farm and think that brown cows give chocolate milk. Educating young people about some of the misconceptions they may have about farming Connie said may help them better understand what farming is.
“It’s important that farmers try to educate the public how their food gets to them and how safe it [their food] is,” Connie said.
Regardless what struggles they go through and the misconceptions about farming they may encounter, Connie said farming is what her family chooses to do.
“We know it [farming] is a good way of life,” Connie said. “Right now it’s tough, but it will make us stronger.”