This Washington Dairyman Pleased with Robots

Leroy and Jana Plagerman

Well established dairy producer Leroy Plagerman milks some 1200 cows with his family near Bellingham, Wash.  As board chair of the Darigold cooperative, the largest in the Northwest, he’s no stranger to the spotlight and he’s especially comfortable talking about transitioning half the herd to a retrofitted barn with eight Lely robotic milking units.


The operation’s Jersey herd is a satellite facility and when it was time for an upgrade to the milking system, the Plagermans looked at the many farms in nearby British Columbia that had installed robotic units.  Wanting to deal with some persistent labor issues, he took the plunge, retrofitting the 260 X 260 barn.  They removed some lock-ups to create more space around the eight robots, changed the flush system, relocated the milk house and updated the electrical and plumbing systems. They bed with sand and brought in the Lely robotic feeder to push up the silage in the bunks.

He says it was a pretty intense six months, but now that the cows, and people, are trained, production is higher and herd health is improved with a reduced incidence of mastitis.  He did cull ten percent of the cows for udders that were too deep for the milker units but he didn’t sell a single cow for temperament.   Udder conformation is important with squarely placed teats not too close together in the rear.  He says he found it took about three weeks to get the cows who had been milked in a parlor transitioned over to the robot routine.

Production had been a 54 lbs. per day and now, three months later, it’s moving through 61 lbs.  The preg rate had been at 21% and is now over 34%.  He credits the real time information on each cow with the ability to detect and treat problems early.

Three full-time workers take care of the cows in this barn, as well as the heifers.  Three milker positions were eliminated.

He credits his nearby dairy equipment dealer as being a critical element in the conversion and ongoing success. A veteran of 30 years in dairying, Leroy and his wife, Rhonda, have 12 children, four of whom are active on the dairy which includes a 500-cow Holstein herd and 700 crop acres.

(left: Plagerman robotic milking unit)