At our third seminar in January, the VALOR fellows visited the Leech family, and Ingleside Dairy. Parents Charles and Linda, and children Jennifer and Beau are all Virginia Tech graduates, with degrees in Dairy Science. The family milks approximately 300 cows on their Rockbridge County, VA farm.
The dairy farm started operations in 1967, and was incorporated to include the dairy and cows in 1978. The farm now includes 900 acres, with approximately 1000 additional acres of rented ground. That land allows the family to plant approximately 550 acres of corn, and 150 acres each of alfalfa and soybeans. In addition to the family, the farm employs two full-time, and three part-time employees.
In 1990, the farm installed a “double ten” milking parlor. In this system, it took approximately 5 hours to complete a milking session. In 2010-2011, the family recognized a need to update their equipment, and on the advice of a dairy equipment salesman, they investigated a robotic system. The family visited twenty farms that operated a form of robotic milking, to evaluate the effectiveness of the system. They eventually realized that the robotic system was similar in cost to a traditional system, and that the robots would allow them some greater freedoms. Specifically, a change would eliminate the need to spend ten to twelve hours per day staffing the milking parlor, and reduce the stress of completing the farm’s crop operations around the milking schedule. With this in mind, the family chose to change to a robotic milking system, a Lely Astronaut, the first of its kind in Virginia.
The family prepared for some significant growing pains, as they knew from their research that the shift to a robotic system could be stressful for their staff and cows. Within a few weeks of the switch, things settled down and the new system was running as expected. As a result of the change to the Lely system, the farm was able to downsize its labor force, and allow the family more time to work on the crop operations. The cows are milked automatically, 24 hours per day, while the Leech family receives reports and information on each animal that would be hard to collect in a traditional system.
As the industry of agriculture continues to evolve, so too does the American producer. With systems like robotic milkers, the dawn ‘til dusk dairy farmer is being replaced by a computer that doesn’t tire, feel stress, or worry about long hours or a lack of vacation. Ingleside Dairy is on the leading edge of agriculture’s progression toward a bright future.