Damascus farmers have added robotic automation to the milking process -- Gazette.Net


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Owners of the Rock Hill Orchard farm in Damascus have taken a big step toward making their retail dairy operation more profitable by installing a robotic milking machine.

The machine, made by DeLaval, has a computerized robotic arm that automatically milks each cow, using laser beams to locate each teat and attach the milkers.

Although the computerized machine cost $150,000, farm owner John Fendrick figures he will recoup the investment through lower labor costs.

Cows need to be milked twice a day. With the robotic milking machine, they walk into a chute, where some tempting grain awaits them. They stand while they’re milked, then go back out to the grassy pasture.

“This allows us to work the rest of the farm without being dedicated just to the cows,” Fendrick said Monday at the farm during a gathering of county officials and fellow dairy farmers.

Fendrick and his wife Mary own the 140-acre farm off Ridge Road, where they also raise fruits and vegetables.

They’re currently milking about two dozen grass-fed Guernsey cows and bottle their own milk, selling it at their roadside stand, thereby eliminating the middle man.

They bought the fruit and vegetable farm in 2010 and later added the dairy. They started using the robotic machine on the Guernseys in April of this year.

County officials said the operation is the first new creamery operation in Montgomery County in 60 years.

Mary Fendrick said customers are willing to pay $7 a gallon because they know the milk is fresh and they know where it comes from.

Officials urge consumers to buy local products to preserve farmland in the state and in the agricultural reserve areas of Montgomery County.

“This presents a model all of us can emulate,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who attended the event.

vterhune@gazette.net