Van Lieshout Farm is first in Orleans with robotic milking units
Photos by Tom Rivers
BARRE – Mike Van Lieshout on Friday leads a tour of the family’s dairy farm on Route 98 in Barre. About 50 people from Western New York attended the tour which included representatives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, National Grid, and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The farm was started by Mike’s parents, Leon and Hendrika Van Lieshout, in 1978. Mike’s son, Garrett, joined the operation in 2015, bringing a third generation into the dairy farm.
The Van Lieshout farm recently constructed new buildings and installed new equipment. On May 7 they started using eight robotic milking units.
The Van Lieshouts are the first farm in Orleans County with the robots. One of the robots is shown milking a cow.
The farm has about 400 cows milked by the robots and another 85 cows in a traditional milking parlor.
The robots milk the cows 24/7. They spare the farm owners worry over a reliable workforce. The robots also allow the cows to milk on their own schedule.
The cows go to the milking parlor on their own accord when they are ready to be milked.
Each cow has a RFID, which is like a Fitbit, on a collar. The RFID allows the robot to identify each cow and track the animal’s feed intake and milk output.
“Labor was a big reason why we went this route,” said Cyndy Van Lieshout. “We wanted the younger generation to be able to come home.”
Jay Snyder of National Grid speaks to the group gathered in one of the barns. He said the energy company offers many incentives to help farms install energy-saving equipment.
The Van Lieshouts participated in a no-cost energy audit with the Agriculture Energy Audit Program through NYSERDA. Equipped with the results of the energy audit, the dairy farm worked with National Grid to install robotic milking equipment and other energy efficient equipment.
National Grid’s Energy Efficiency and Economic Development programs provided about $90,000 towards some of the new equipment at the Van Lieshout farm. The more efficient equipment is estimated to save the Van Lieshouts about $22,500 in reduced electricity costs.
The Van Lieshouts made upgrades in the barn with fan controls, plate coolers, milking equipment, LED lighting and with VFDS for manure pumps and water pumps. Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) are a type of motor controller that drives an electric motor by varying the frequency and voltage supplied to the motor.
The Van Lieshouts said the upgrades at the farm were about 5 years in the making.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Cyndy told the group on the tour Friday.
The Van Lieshouts also completed a Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary on an annual basis to assess their business and plan for a sustainable future. For this project, they used Pro-Dairy’s Dairy Acceleration Program, now known as the Dairy Advancement Program, funded through New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to cost share their facility engineering.