A Third-Generation North Canaan Dairy Operation Adopts Cutting-Edge Technology
Freund’s Farm is first in state to install robotic milking machines
By Colleen Gundlach
Driving through East Canaan, one can’t help noticing the bank of 500 solar panels alongside Route 44. These are impressive, but only a tip of the iceberg of the advanced technology actually at work at Freund’s Farm and the three different businesses it now encompasses.
When Eugene Freund moved to East Canaan from New York City in the 1940’s, he met and married Canaan native Esther Brown, and they started a dairy farm together. They eventually turned the business over to their sons, Benjamin and Matthew. In addition to the dairy farm, the family also runs the nationally recognized CowPots™ business and Freund’s Farm Market.
Today a third generation of Freunds is involved in the dairy enterprise and has been quick to adopt some truly innovative, high-tech methods. Siblings Amanda, Isaac and Rachel, along with their cousin Sarah and her husband, Andy Jack, have returned to fill unique roles on the ever-changing family farm. Under the supervision of brothers Matt and Ben, Amanda heads up the marketing of CowPots, Isaac handles the mechanics and crop production, Sarah does the accounting and bookkeeping, Andy maintains the robots, and Rachel oversees herd health for the dairy operation, which produces 2,200 gallons of milk each day. This is a daily average of 72 pounds of milk from each cow.
Last year, the Freunds introduced computerized technology to improve the safety and health of their cows as they produce premium milk. Instead of being herded into the barn to be milked twice a day, the cows now milk themselves with the assistance of milking robots. When a cow feels the need to be milked, she walks up to the milking booth, where grain is delivered to meet her individual nutritional needs. While she eats, a robotic arm cleans the surface of each teat, brushes the area clean and air-dries it. A laser light then locates the teats and attaches the milking mechanism to the cow, and the milking begins. Milk flows through pipes to the sterile tanks located elsewhere in the building.
The milk storage tanks are also connected to the computerized system, with an alarm that alerts the Freunds immediately, 24 hours a day, in a British voice, of any anomaly in the robotic system. An alert might be triggered when no grain is being dispensed at a particular milking station, or when a cow has gone too long without visiting (typically the result of human error and leaving a gate closed). Well water is used, with pipes passing through a plate cooler, to help cool the milk from the 101.3-degree body temperature of the cow to the 38 degrees required for storage. “The well water cooling system itself drops the temperature of the milk in half,” says Amanda Freund. “This results in a great savings in electricity costs.”
When the milking is complete, the robot arm sprays disinfectant on the teats as extra protection for the cow, to seal the teat end to prevent infection. “If the cow lies down before the teat end seals back up, she could pick up an infection,” says Freund. “The spray helps reduce that danger.”
The feed tray then swings out of the way so the cow can exit the milking station. The cow then gets her back scratched from a rotating brush and can head out to socialize with the other cows, get some exercise, or just take a nap on a comfortable waterbed, designed to provide support and relieve compaction of her joints.
Maintaining the health of the cows is of utmost importance, and the Freunds have introduced a computerized method of monitoring the health of the herd. With the help of a transponder worn by each cow (a bovine Fitbit of sorts), herdsman Rachel Freund is able to know important statistics about each animal, including how many times she was milked each day, how much milk she produced, her body temperature, how many times she chewed that day and her activity level. Any deviation from normal for that particular cow is noted and acted upon. In addition, a nutritionist visits the farm each month, making sure the cows are maintaining a balanced diet.
Since cows need to have offspring before they can produce milk, the animal’s readiness to breed is a very important factor. The transponder alerts the herdsman when the cow is in heat. There is an 18-hour window during which the breeding must be done. Freund’s Farm cows produce 300 new calves each year—nearly one a day. “Sometimes we have had as many as four births in one day,” says Amanda Freund.
Other technologically advanced innovations introduced by the Freunds include foot baths for the cows three or four times a week and a robotic device, named Juno, that automatically travels around the barn floor 21 times a day, pushing the feed closer to the cows. As the cows eat, they tend to move the feed out into the center of the barn floor. Juno pushes it back, closer to the bunks so the animals can reach it more easily.
The Freunds’ barn is climate controlled, with automated fans that go on when needed. In hot summer weather there is a sprinkler that mists water on the cows, and there are curtains controlled by a thermostat. On the barn roof are an additional 700 solar panels, providing the electricity needed to run the dairy barn and CowPots production.
Despite all of this innovation and computerization, the farm operation has not decreased its staff. “The amount of work is the same,” says Amanda Freund. “but our jobs are different. Now we can spend less time on daily chores and more time on making improvements to our farm.”
Photos by Bruce Frisch.