By Brandy Harrison and Tom Collins
KINGSTON — Robert Sonneveld has been chomping at the bit for years to trade his automatic takeoffs for a Quebec-made milking robot that would let him keep the cow management ease of his tie-stall and avoid a costly outlay for a new barn.
“The first time we saw them — about four years ago on YouTube — we pretty much made up our minds,” says the Sunbury dairy farmer, who milks 126 cows with his brothers, Jeff and Richard. There was one hitch. The robot’s maker — Milkomax, Solutions Laitières Inc., based in Sainte-Monique, Que. — asked the Sonnevelds to hold off until it had service techs in place.
But the wait is over: They’ll have two Roboleo milking robots gliding stall-to-stall by the end of the month, for about one-quarter to one-half of the cost of building new.
Cloverview Farms, north of Kingston, in Eastern Ontario, is just the second Ontario farm to install the tie-stall robot.
The first two were installed by dairy farmers Mario and Pierre Franche east of Ottawa in 2014.
There are 60 tie-stall robots chugging away in Quebec.
Roboleo got its first Ontario dealer in November: Dairymax Farm Solutions in Winchester, south of Ottawa. General manager James Casey has been fielding three or four calls a week about the tie-stall robot.
A Roboleo will set farmers back between $300,000 and $400,000, depending on existing setup but can milk about 70 cows twice a day or 50 cows three times daily, the manufacturer says.
Milking mimics other robotic milkers but the Roboleo is mobile, attached to a track between two rows of tie stalls. Stopping behind each cow, the robot lowers a ramp over the manure alley. Free-spinning rollers reach out and pressure the shoulders, guiding the cow backwards. A camera mounted on the robotic arm can spot if the next cow is lying down and uses a cylinder to nudge her to stand. After two attempts, it uses a small electric shock to drive the point home.
Crossing his fingers that it’ll be easier to train the cows compared to a freestall-style robot, Sonneveld says the Roboleo has proven its worth in Quebec.
“Not one has been pulled out yet. We’re about to find out how it’s going to work.”