Gerry and Linda Overvest of Overdale Farms are making the switch from a traditional milking parlour to a robotic milking system over the course of the summer. The construction period began on May 10, and it’s estimated to take around four months to complete.

“My wife and I love farming, and in particular we love our cows,” Gerry Overvest said. “We don’t want to quit, but to do it the way we’re doing it, it’s getting more physically demanding because we’re getting older. With the new system I figure we could still do it, and we could enjoy it more.”

Using the traditional milking parlour, cows are normally tied, and farmers do the majority of the work – they bring the cows the feed, and they eat as they are being milked.

With a robotic milking system, generally, the cows will go to where the feed is, and then automatic teat cleaning, milking cup application, milking, and teat spraying takes place by the system robots. The cows will be attracted to go to the robots due to the type of feed that is used.

The new system will allow the cattle to be milked between three to four times a day, as opposed to two times. It also gives the cows more freedom to be milked when they choose, and they get to move around freely, Overvest explained.

“Because the cows get milked more often there’s not as much pressure on their udders, so there’s less chance of metabolic disorders like mastitis because they’re milked more frequently and it’s more comfortable for the animals,” he said.

The construction site for the new barn thus far.

The construction site for the new barn thus far.

By implementing this new system, Overvest hopes his children will be more interested in taking over the farm in the future, as the plan is to pass it on to the next generation. His eldest daughter, Morgan, has shown the most interest.

“The way we do it now, it’s just too much physical labour for her, but this new system is more technologically efficient, so she could potentially be able to run the barn herself,” he said. He also hopes that if his son sees that there is an easier way to milk the cows, he might be more interested in taking over, as the farm will be technologically up to date.

Sylvain Cheff Construction is building the new barn. Between 10 and 15 workers are moving the project forward. Right now, they are working on laying out the foundation.

Overvest hopes the new barn will be up and running by October, before there is any snowfall, so it will be easier to transport the cattle from the old barn to the new one. “We would like to introduce our cattle into the new facility beforehand just to let them walk around and smell it, instead of just putting them in cold turkey,” he said. “We want to even let them go into the robotic area, not to be milked but just to get the feed, to get accustomed to the noises and the new structure and everything.”
Although there are many benefits, Overvest anticipates a few challenges.

“With any new system, there’s going to be some bugs. There’s a lot of electronics and I’m hoping that it’s going to withstand the test of time,” he said.

He added that manure management might be a challenge, as they are using sand as bedding for the cows. “Sand tends to separate from the manure, so it’s harder to handle,” he explained. “But the comfort of sand is paramount. The cows don’t slip as much.”

The Overvests visited various barns with robotic milking systems before determining how exactly they would set up their own. They opted to create theirs based on a milking facility in St-Eugene.
“We just loved the way it was set up. We probably went to visit it 10 times,” Overvest said. “We’re almost mimicking that. It seems to work so well for them.”

“I think it’ll be better for the animals and for us and that’s the main reason why we did it,” he said.