Within each robotic system, cows are trained to move on their own through a large rectangular pen split into two sides and outfitted with a series of one-way gates separating areas where they are fed, watered and rested before entering a small gated area where milking takes place. They can be milked up to three times a day.
Dairy farmer Rodney Elliott stands in a small room where part of his $12 million robotic milking system is doing its job.
The robotic system is located inside a huge new barn on Elliott’s farm northeast of Lake Norden and is one of only a handful of fully robotic milking operations in South Dakota.
As the system functions flawlessly around him — feeding, watering, bedding, washing and milking hundreds of cows day and night with nary a human touch — Elliott watches with a mix of excitement and awe.
“My mother milked cows with just a bucket and a stool,” Elliott said, his Irish accent rising as in song. “We’ve sure come a long way, haven’t we?”
Elliott, 57, is the owner of Drumgoon Dairy, one of the largest and now most technologically advanced dairy farms in South Dakota.