FRANKLIN, Idaho - There have been a number of science fiction movies where robots take over the world.
That hasn’t happened yet, but robots are taking over parts of the dairy industry with dramatic results.
Nestled in the hills of Franklin, Idaho is the Hobbs Dairy Circle 7 Ranch. Owner Troy Hobbs has 360 cows in his new robot barn.
Troy Hobbs is a third generation dairy farmer. His grandfather started this dairy in 1927 with eight cows and passed the operation on to his son who passed it on to Troy.
Hobbs has seen lots of technological advancements in the industry since he was a kid on this farm. Last year he invested in the most advanced technology yet -- robots.
The cows are trained to walk over to the robot whenever they wanted to be milked.
Hobbs explains how it works.
"She'll want to go into the robot for two reasons - number one to eat the grain and also because of the pressure of her udder - she'll want to release that. It's painful when it gets really tight. The robot has a brush that comes in and will clean her udder. It has a disinfectant that will clean it really good. Then it will go back out and wash it off and then it will come back and dry the udder off."
A laser shows the robot where to latch the suction devices onto the cow to milk it. The milk goes into a container that’s on a scale so it will weigh the milk.
When the milking is complete, the gate opens and the cow walks out.
"In a robot barn, the time from when the cow walks in is six minutes and our conventional barn it takes us 15 minutes," Hobbs explains.
There’s a spinning brush similar to a car wash brush that the cows can activate by pushing on it. They love getting their heads and backs scratched.
Hobbs wants to make sure the cows are comfortable while lying down too.
"We've got a poly pillow under there that positions her where to lay," Hobbs said.
The biggest advantage to a robotic barn is that the cows are a lot happier.
"A happy cow makes more milk," Hobbs said. "The vet was just here on Tuesday and he said, 'Troy, I was really skeptical when you put the robots in.' And now he looked at them on Tuesday and said the robot cows are more content. They're happier. They're just a lot better. He could see the difference between a robot cow compared to a conventional barn."
So all this is designed to ease the stress on the cows.
"The environment in a robot barn is a lot more relaxed - stress free,” Hobbs said. “We don't yell at them anymore. We used to say ‘come on get up!’ Now we don’t say anything to them. If she's thirsty she'll get a drink. If she wants to eat she'll come and eat. If she's ready to milk, she'll go ahead and walk to the robots. She makes her own decisions, instead of us as humans telling her what to do."
Hobbs says the results of that stress free life for the cows in a robot barn compared to a conventional barn speak for themselves.
"We're finding we're gaining about 20 percent more milk,” Hobbs said. "Our best cow in the herd right now is milking 160 pounds of milk a day and she's going into the robot 5 times a day."
The robot barn saves on manpower costs.
"We have one guy running 360 cows,” Hobbs said. “In my conventional barn we're running 200 cows and it's a three man operation."
Robots are an exciting innovation, but the cost comes at a time when dairy farmers aren't even breaking even. Add that to trade imbalances and competition from milk substitutes, it's a stressful time. But the benefits of being a dairy farmer make it worth it for Troy Hobbs.
The benefits, or the things that make me happy are the joys of my own work,” Hobbs said. “I get the joys of my own work, and the other thing is I love chocolate milk. I love cheeseburgers. I love beef and dairy products so it's fun for me to be able to produce my own dairy products."
So the family tradition lives on at the Hobbs Dairy Circle 7 Ranch with the help of robots.