Robotic milking barn easy transition for Rolinda Acres
At Rolinda Acres, family is spelled out in the name. The Allamakee County farm was founded in 1972 by Robert and Linda Thompson (Ro-Linda). Today, Linda, her daughter Tara and son-in-law Pat Reisinger, their kids Reese, Isaac and Drake, along with a loyal staff, manage the row crop and livestock operation.
The farm includes about 800 head of milking cows, a calving barn holding about 80 calves at any given time, five hog nursery buildings, totaling about 25,000 head, along with corn, soybean and alfalfa acres.
“None of us would be here today, doing what we love, if it wasn’t for Bob and Linda,” Pat Reisinger said last week. “This really is a family effort; we all pitch in.”
Bob passed away in 2020 but his legacy lives on in that name of the operation, as well as the strong family and farm business he helped build.
The dairy is split between the two-year-old robot milking barn and a traditional milking parlor. Sam Schwartz, one of the longtime helpers on the farm, said the plan is to phase out the milking parlor, which currently milks about 250 head a day, in favor of a second robotic barn, slated for construction in the next few years.
New dairy facility
The new barn boasts eight robotic milking systems by Delaval, which handles about 550 head at this time. It has space available to expand, so the plan is to add three more robots and another 150 cows to the building this fall.
“We knew we needed to grow to remain financially viable,” Schwartz said. “This barn gave us the flexibility to handle more cows without adding staff.”
Schwartz has his own, unique path to joining the Thompson/Reisinger family operation. His parents moved to a house just down the road from Rolinda Acres when he was eight years old. As an inquisitive kid, Schwartz rode his bike down to the farm one day and met Reisinger, who invited him up into the tractor for a ride.
Hiring the neighbor
“I showed up that day and I guess just never left,” Schwartz joked.
After completing the dairy science program at North Iowa Area Community College, Schwartz returned to work full-time on the farm.
While labor shortages continue to be a big problem in rural areas, Schwartz said the dairy has been fortunate to maintain a small, dedicated staff. "Our parlor labor is very good," he said.
The robotic barn is maintained primarily by Schwartz, along with one other employee, while it takes several staff to manage the smaller manual milking parlor.
In addition to offering easier care for the animals, since the cows have more freedom to be milked when they need to be, Schwartz said they have seen an increase of about eight pounds of milk, per animal, per day thanks to the new system.
“We can ship about one and a half semi load of milk per day out of our two buildings,” Reisinger said. He noted the entire facility is built with the cow’s comfort in mind.
“When people visit the farm, see our cows in this environment, they always say ‘I can’t believe how calm and comfortable the cows are,’” Reisinger said. “That’s a good thing.”
Adding robots to the farm was a good fit for both Schwartz and Reisinger, matching their skills.
Schwartz said Reisinger is really good at managing the finances of the farm and saw a road to profitability in the dairy business when others didn't. On the flip side, Reisinger said Schwartz is fantastic with the technological aspects of running the robot milking systems and caring for the animals.
“What I really like about farming is how much of a team project it is,” Reisinger said. “We have several employees who help out and our whole family is involved. Teamwork is what it takes to make it succeed.”
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