Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
New York Correspondent
BELMONT, N.Y. — Charles “Chuck” Deichmann’s organic farm isn’t your stereotypical organic farm. The high-tech operation uses two robotic milkers and an automated feeding system to boost efficiency on the 100-head farm. But technology is becoming more popular among organic farms, according to Deichmann, who said his farm was the first organic farm in the nation to use a robotic milking system when it was installed in 2007. He liked it so well, he installed a second one in 2008.
The Deichmanns have been dairying on Willow Creek Farm since 1974 when Deichmann’s father, Charles Deichmann, Sr., began farming there. Deichmann and his wife, Julia, took over the operation in 1995.
Although the elder had always operated the dairy close to organically, Deichmann, Jr. made it official in 2000 and then became a supplier to Horizon Organic and soon was producing 1.8 million pounds annually for New York distribution.
The Deichmanns have grown the herd size from 35 to 100, thanks in part to the efficiency of automation, which has allowed them to hire only one full-time employee and rely on part-time help from their three sons and one daughter, who range from 9 to 16 years old.
Julia, a school teacher, has no farming background. His family was one of the reasons Deichmann wanted to automate milking and feeding the cows.
“I wanted to improve efficiency, especially during the crop season,” he said. “It gives me flexibility with family. The kids are growing up and I want to make it to some of their school events.”
After installing the first robotic milking system, Deichmann quickly realized how much more efficient the farm could be if he had another.
“The second one made the getting them out to pasture easier,” he said. “The number of cows per robot is less.”
He also found that automation reduces the physical strain on the dairyman and cow.
“The consistency of environment for the cows, the environment in the barn is very relaxed,” he said. “Last year, we added an automated feed pusher which helped out a great deal. It gives feed to the cows 24/7 during the non-grazing season. There’s less pressure. They eat whenever they want. Herd health has been good.”
Part of the reason for improved health is that Deichmann can more easily monitor the cows’ health implementing the various tools the automated system provides.
The milk quality has been good and the quantity increased by five to seven pounds per cow per day after installing automated milking systems and one to two additional pounds after adding the feed pusher.
The first system cost $165,000, not including the building. The second system was supposed to cost $30,000 less since he already had items such as the control units; however, a jump in prices absorbed a chunk of that savings and it cost him $145,000.
He estimated that he recouped the expense of both systems within five to seven years, owing to the labor savings and the increased milk production.
Deichmann encourages any other organic dairyman considering automated equipment to visit other farms using it.
“Alfred State College (http://www.alfredstate.edu) is now putting a robot in their farm and will have an organic dairy on it,” Deichmann said.
Alfred State offers an associate in applied science in agricultural business and associate in applied science in agricultural technology.
“I’m not looking to expand at this point,” Deichmann said. “I want to improve efficiencies going forward. I haven’t decided what the next step is.”