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These cows wanted to check out the human visitors during the Qual Dairy open house. Photo by Dale Hildebrant.

Having spent the first four and one-half decades of my life around dairy cows, I always enjoy visiting dairy farms to view the latest technology and write about it. I had a rare treat recently when I attended the open house at the Qual Dairy near Lisbon, N.D. This is a completely new facility that features a 60-unit robotic rotary milking parlor plus robotic alley scrapers in the free stall barn and a robotic unit that pushes the feed up to the cows’ feeding curb every two hours.

As I left the open house and drove back to Valley City, three main thoughts kept flooding my mind as I recalled the open house event, and I think it will be good to share those items with you.

First is, the technology dairies are incorporating to bring better efficiencies into a dairy farm. What I witnessed at the Qual Dairy was the cutting edge of technology, since only three other dairies in the U.S. are using the robotic rotary milking parlor at this time. This allows one person to milk 60 cows at a time and – with the help of robotics – better manage the operation when compared to their old herringbone parlor that took four to five people to milk 100 cows an hour compared to the slightly over 200 cows an hour in this new parlor.

Finding people who are willing to milk cows is becoming more of a challenge every day. This technology will certainly help that cause.

I remember our last milking parlor was a double-four herringbone parlor with eight milking units that had automatic take-offs when the cow had finished milking. I could run that parlor alone and was lucky enough, on a good, day to push 50 cows an hour through there.

The second thought that stuck in my mind wasn’t something I learned at the Qual open house, but rather from news stories and checking commodity markets. When I left the dairy industry in 1994, we were getting a better price for our milk than the dairy farmers are getting today. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major ag commodity that can make that claim. Yes, the prices are less than what we were getting four years ago, but they haven’t rolled back to prices from the mid-1990s.

The prices paid for tractors, dairy equipment, feed and other supplies plus the prices paid for the dairy products in the store such as milk, butter, ice cream and cheese are well above those 1990 prices as well. It points out the inequity we see in our ag commodity pricing, but especially in the area of dairy.

It is no wonder the number of dairy farms in the U.S. continues to dwindle at a surprising rate.

The final thing that impressed me was the friendliness of the cows – they crowded the end of the pen curious about their human visitors. As a former dairyman, this speaks as to how well the cows are treated. If they were abused and not treated with respect, they would naturally shy away from humans and not want to stick their noses through the fence railings to get a closer look and smell. This is by far the norm when it comes to farmers and ranchers and the livestock they own.

For some strange reason we have a small segment of the population that is convinced that these animals are treated inhumanely, but nothing is further from the truth. Animals that are mistreated perform poorly and everyone ends up being a loser, but that very seldom happens. Instead everyone is a winner when animals are comfortable and handled with respect and dignity.

Here is a special tip of the hat to Alan and Rod Qual and their families for hosting this open house that showed the respect livestock owners have for their charges and also for providing a glimpse of the wonders that lie ahead in the dairy farm business. It was truly a visit I will never forget.