Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday I have automatic lists that are supposed to print.
I have no lists today because the printer ink thing can’t move. The printer ink thing can’t move because there are mouse turds and bits of dCON jammed under the ink cartridge.
Yes, a mouse has taken the liberty of setting up his winter home inside my printer. Why my printer? There are a zillion places on this farm that a mouse could live.
If my 1 year old printer is no match for a mouse turd how are these places that are going all in on robots going to fare in 3-4 years?
Have you seen the guts of a robot? They look like they could be an electrical nightmare. Just think of the dollars a mouse could chew through in one of those things.
A slippery slope
I hate to break it to you but the robot sales pitch is all wrong. For $187,356.15 you are buying a dream. The dream of a free schedule. Not having to put up with the people problems that the common farms will have. The robot will take care of it.
As long as we are being honest, I have absolutely zero experience with robots. I’m not sure I even want one. I am still trying to evict a stupid mouse in my printer. I can’t even begin to fathom all that could go wrong with the combination of a new system and service people that don’t know how to service it. “Learning together” is not a bill that goes over well with me.
What I do know is that with robots come change and with change comes growth.
Growth is the fun part until you get the bill. (See BST)
Before you become so entranced with needing a robot. Before you start trying to convince your banker. Before you start promising him that you can both hold hands by the mailbox and wait for the checks to just roll in by themselves. Let’s just pull back the curtain on the rainbows and bubblegum soup.
You’ll face the best presenters
Want to know where the slope gets slippery? Once word gets out that you are working on a new project the vultures will start to circle. The companies you start asking questions to will send someone out right away. The first guy will be inept and won’t have a clue on how to help you but he will be back through when his manager is in the area.
The second time he comes around he will have someone in tow that can talk a good game, answer all of your questions and make it sound real easy.
This guy is the Closer. Everyone in sales wants to be the Closer but very few are good at it. The bigger the project the more access you will have to the Closer until you actually sign on.
Bankers are are a good example of a Closer. You are forced to believe them and it is literally their job to sell money. The more they sell, the more interest they can recoup.
These people are highly trained at separating you from your money. Right now you are looking at robots because you can’t even convince someone to show up for work on time for money. Who do you think will win?
Once you are committed you are expected to go back to dealing with whoever your local inept area rep is. Your ability to make a strong connection with the Closer will greatly impact the success of the project. You do not want to have to go through your area rep to get your questions answered. You need direct access to the kind of people that can make things happen for you even after the sale.
You’ll build a snowball
It’s always more cows than you thought
No matter your size now, you’ll undoubtedly need to grow the herd size to cash flow the price tag. 50 becomes 100 becomes 240. You can manage 50 while working your ass half dead into the ground but that same pace won’t hold up at 100.
It always becomes a multiple of 240. You started by looking at a robot for 50-100 into an existing facility. The Closer showed you why you need a whole new building for a proper layout. See, he is good at what he does. Now to cash flow the new design you are trying to maximize 4 robots. And for the rest of your life growth will always hinge on increments of 240.
The snowball is gaining speed
With new setups come new problems. You will have to reinvent the wheel for everything. The Closer will present this as opportunity to improve.
- How will dry cows be handled?
- How will mastitis treatments be handled?
- How will you find sick cows?
- How will the stalls be groomed and bedded?
- How will the cows be grouped?
- Will each pen have its own foot bath?
- What happens if one robot is down for more than 8 hours?
- How will you train fresh heifers?
- Who will do the work?
You’ll still need people, it’s still work
Yes Lely is right. 50-60 cows per unit (employee) through a robot is on par with most parlors under 600 cows. Many of which, are only getting 50 cows per employee. And it’s hopefully more efficient than 30 cows per person in a stall barn.
Time that used to be spent on milking and observation will now be spent on detective work. Detective work is a huge time suck. You can pour over paper lists and walk pens and still not solve anything sometimes. Sick cows that used to be caught during milking now need to be found through observation. Even if a computer is helping you, you still need to interpret the numbers the right way….Every time.
Even with no milking everything will take longer at an increased herd size. The only way to counter that is to have people.
If I were converting everything over to robots tomorrow I could justify cutting 3 guys off of the payroll. I would need 8 robots to make that switch. With crops and heifers already contracted out, I would still need 3-4 people to run the day-to-day operation.
The people that stay on or are hired on will have multiple roles. They can’t be expected to “just milk” or “just feed.” They will have to do a little of everything. The hardest spot to fill on any dairy is qualified cow people, ones with actual cow skills.
Without milking it is harder to train and grasp those skills for people not familiar with them. You might take them for granted because you have been doing it all of your life. Instead of needing a couple of milkers and a calf feeder now you need 3 qualified cow people. If you can’t attract them now how will you attract them later?
It’s not a surprise that brand new robot operations are being funded. Bankers have an interest in interest but, not always your interest.
As you grow bigger and the operation becomes more advanced you will be introduced to “smart” people from bigger companies. Closers that are trying to separate you from your milk check.
No one talks about how robots are going to put more pressure on you to be even better with managing people. They only talk of how robots will free up your reliance of people. What you are trading in managing parlor employees is the opportunity to be fully attached to both teats of your banker and the robot dealer.
They are selling you a dream and you are buying a snowball.