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French Brothers Dairy - Woodstock, Virginia

Billy, Timmy & Martin F.

Family members have been the fuel keeping French Brothers Dairy going and the cows milked for generations. They farm on 1,600 acres, 600 of which is for hay and pasture, and they milk just over 100 cows.

“Every niece, nephew, son and daughter has milked cows at some point on this farm,” said Billy F. He himself recalls milking cows twice-a-day from the time he was in third grade until he went off to college for a semester.

Billy farms with his brothers, Timmy and Martin, who are in charge of other farm operations; his son Thomas is actively involved in helping him manage the dairy. In the past years, the farm’s location and its proximity to Washington, D.C. made it very difficult for the family to find and keep hired help to milk cows. Labor shortage and unreliability had become a major challenge at their farm. “I thought if we were going to stay in the industry, there has to be an alternative,” said Billy. Moving to robotic milking seemed like a logical solution.

In March 2016 they installed and started using two LELY robots. It took some time for the cows to get used to the new routine. Now that they got acclimated to the robotic system, the cows just walk up on their own, and get milked when they feel the need. Billy and Thomas get notified if something is amiss and a cow misses her turn. They don’t have to be present at all times; the cows don’t need to be herded as they already know what they need to do.

The machines gather all kinds of information about each cow and their milk, helping the family gain a better understanding of their herd and being able to tailor nutrition to their individual needs.