Kurtland Farms showcases milking robots at open house

Kurtland Farms, in Elverson, held its open house to showcase its new robotic milking facilities Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Matthew D'Ippolito

Hundreds in the community flocked to Kurtland Farms Saturday for the dairy farm’s open house showcasing its new robotic milking facilities.

A chance to see the robots in action, meet the cows and, of course, have some free ice cream were all big draws.

“It’s going really well so far,” Jared Kurtz, whose family owns the farm, said during the event. “We’ve had a great turn out from the local community. I think the weather really helps. And with a lot going on in the community, it helps with people driving by.”

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After parking at Twin Valley Elementary Center, visitors boarded one of two tractor-pulled hay wagons or a bus provided by Eshelman Transportation to the farm just down the road. Upon reaching the farm, they were greeted by Kurtland Farms staff members who helped them off the wagon.

As the tractor pulled up to its destination, one farmer welcomed the guests with a loud, “Welcome to Kurtland Farms for an UDDER-ly MOOO-ving experience!”

Then guests could get their ice cream ticket, a map and some food from various vendors before taking a self-guided tour of the facilities, complete with farm workers on hand to answer questions throughout.

And at the end of the tour, visitors could take a short quiz via iPad to be entered in a drawing for a chance to win free t-shirts.

The cows walk through the milking stations themselves, enticed by special feed that acts like a treat to them. The robots can sense whether the cow needs to be milked, and if so, a gate with a bowl of feed comes down to keep them in place.

Then the control arm moves into place and cleans the teats with a brush. The brush folds back and a laser sensor guides the milking arms into place on the udder, stimulating it for milk flow and milking each teat, one at a time.

Jim Holt of Brandywine Veterinary Services explained that the computers have sensors that can alert the farmers if there are problems in the milk. The sensors can also tell how much milk each cow is producing, its rumination, and body temperature, how long since each cow was last milked and more.

“There are about 250 cows in this operation, so it would be very difficult to stay on top of everything in the operation,” he said. “So the computer helps with specific things like that.

“One of the biggest misconceptions I find the public has is that the cow hutches are not veal hutches,” he added. “They are replacement cows that will grow into milk-producing heifers. They have to grow for two years and have a calf to produce milk, so they have to be an expense for two years before they become productive.”

The transition into using the robots went very smoothly, Harlow Boston, the farm’s mechanic, said. He said the robots are on a regular maintenance schedule based on milking that runs about every three months, and he does small maintenance every day, but there have been no problems yet.

“The major portions of the herd got used to using them within three to four weeks,” he said. “We have a herd manager who keeps an eye on the robots and milking.”

Many visitors thought the day was fun and informative. Ken and Jodie Goudie, of Douglassville, came with their children and grandchildren.

“My grandparents had a dairy farm, so it was kind of nice to come back and experience it,” Jodie Goudie said. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

Ken Goudie added that it was interesting to see how much the industry has changed and that it was also great for their grandchildren. Their little granddaughter headed straight for the baby cows when they arrived.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has said they really love it, learned a lot and are excited to finally see the facility that they’ve seen going up over the last nine weeks or so,” Kurtz said. “They’re excited to see how it all works.”

He added that if anyone missed the open house, the farm will start offering scheduled tours to groups. Anyone who is interested in touring the facilities can contact Kurtland Farms through its Facebook page.

See more photos from the event on our website, www.TriCountyRecord.com!