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Robotics upgrades aid Truxton farm

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Kirk Arnold of Twin Oaks Dairy walks through his new milking parlor, which is under construction. The parlor will be able to milk 96 cows per hour. It is part of a high-tech expansion of the dairy business.

TRUXTON — The Twin Oaks Dairy farm, on Route 13, is building a milking barn that uses technology you could read about in a science fiction novel.

Feed is robotically distributed to the barn’s 145 cows throughout the day. The barn’s curtains are automatic, closing and opening depending on the temperature outside and whether it is raining or snowing. Sensors on the gates will read the chip on each cow’s ear tag and open specific doors, guiding cows to their appropriate location within the barn.

That is just a sample of what the more than $1 million barn has to offer. And even though it is not 100 percent complete, co-owner Kathie Arnold is inviting the public to tour the facility from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

She said she expects to have the barn finished about a week before Christmas. Everyone who visits the barn will get to experience everything it has to offer before the cows do.

“I feel very positive (about the barn). I can’t wait to get in.” Arnold said about preparing to use the new facility.

Her son, Kirk Arnold, who is a co-owner, said the farm’s current milking barn was labor intensive, so he and his mother decided to do something different about a year ago.

They looked at building a fully robotic barn, which would automatically move cows around and milk them, but they decided to go with a parlor style barn, which uses many robotic features, but the cows are still cleaned and milked manually.

However, the milking stations are ergonomic for the people doing the milking — the milkers do not have to sit on a chair or kneel down. There is a pit for them to stand up in and easily hook up the milking system from underneath, according to Kirk Arnold.

“It is safer and will save us a lot of time,” he said. “It (the milking process) should take about an hour and a half with one person versus three hours with two people.”

Kathie Arnold said the new barn is designed to be more comfortable for the cows, too. The cows are free to move around where they want. They have water beds to rest on. A couple of cow brushes are stationed around the facility for cows to scratch themselves with. There are scrapers to better scoop up any cow droppings. And the cathedral-style ceiling is insulated.

The technology does not end there, as there are LED lights throughout the building, each of the cow’s individual ear tag can record how much milk the cow gives, and more.

There are many farms that use modern equipment, but Kathie Arnold said she does not know of any other in the county that has the electric sorting gates or a robotic feeder.

Fay Benson, small dairy extension specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said technology is becoming a trend among farms building new barns.

Walnut Ridge Dairy farm in Lansing is another farm implementing technology in its barn, having installed a 40-cow rotary milking parlor, Benson said.

“It is a cheap investment for farms. The pay back is very good for farmers,” Benson said about farms building technologically advanced barns. “Farmers are building toward the future. They want to keep their farm going for another 30, 40 years.”

Kathie Arnold said the state is encouraging farms to implement more modern technologies, and it even gave her a couple of small grants to help with the planning of the new barn. None for the construction of it, though.

At the open house, food and refreshments will be offered, and Kathie Arnold said it is being used as a fundraiser for the Truxton Community Center.