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We Would Do It All Over Again

RMD Dairy Makes the Change to Robotics

 By Amanda Poelman

 RMD Dairy is in Rittman, Ohio, about a half-hour northeast of Wooster, and is owned and operated by Rick Dotterer and his sons Matthew and Mark. What Rick’s father began in the 1950s with a herd of Brown Swiss cows has grown and developed into the 600-cow Holstein milking herd it is today, while embracing new technology and keeping family at the forefront.


With the help of one full-time employee, Ryan Musser, and six part-time helpers who are mainly in high school, Rick, Matthew, and Mark share the bulk of the work on the dairy. Rick is charge of all of the feeding, Matthew looks after the young stock from baby calves to breeding age, and Mark manages the milking herd. The RMD partnership was established in 2009, when the sons bought into the business.


As cow numbers continued to grow, a new 6-row freestall barn was constructed in 2015. Three short years later, the first six Lely A4 robots were installed. “We started up in January 2018,” said Mark. “It was freezing!”

The choice to go with Lely was simple: the dealership is six miles down the road from the farm. “We have a good relationship with WG Dairy Supply Center. They service the robot and take care of the parlor as well.” The double-10 parallel parlor is still used to milk 150 cows, three times daily.


For the Dotterers the decision to make the switch to robots was largely driven by labor. “It was a getting harder to find help in the area and we would rather manage equipment then people,” said Mark, adding, “all the new technology of everything is also pretty intriguing.” Often, transitioning to robots can come with its challenges but the RMD herd handled it well, possibly because they were used to a three times daily milking schedule. Patiently working through any of the minor challenges that did arise, he noted, “we would do it all over again.”


Although they lost some production initially, the cows bounced back quickly and the herd is currently realizing an average of 28,000 pounds of milk, 1,140 pounds of fat, and 900 pounds of protein. All of the cows currently milked by the robots are in their second lactation or higher, while first calvers are milked in the parlor. With the long-term goal of becoming 100 percent robotic in the future, two more Lely A4s will be up and running in June, helping to alleviate some of the pressure on the current robots.

“We’ll still continue to milk in the parlor for a while yet,” said Mark, “but eventually all the cows will be milked robotically.”


The biggest change he has noticed since going robotic is management style. “We aren’t less busy; it just changes the timing and how we manage things.” When considering advice to share with other breeders who may be thinking about switching to robots, he stresses the importance of having a good team in place. “Establishing a good relationship with the nutritionist, veterinarian, hoof trimmer, and equipment dealer is key. You can’t get hung up on the robots, you still have to spend time with the cows and take care of them.”


The addition of the robots on the farm has also adjusted some of the traits necessary when selecting bulls. Although the goal for RMD is to work with animals that have the potential to produce 200,000 pounds of milk, type has its place as well. “We select heavily for high components and milk,” explained Mark,” but you can’t forget about type. As a robot herd we look closely at teat placement and milking speed, but overall we want a functional type animal that is balanced and able to work hard.”

RMD Dairy works exclusively with Select Sires to achieve these goals for its herd and participated in Select’s ART program until December last year. “The ART program allowed us to bring a lot of really good genetics into our herd,” he said, “and in turn, we are able to send some bulls to stud.”


RMD-Dotterer SSI Gameday was recently released through Select Sires’ NxGen program. Sired by Big Al, a Frazzled son, Gameday is out of Pine-Tree SSI 9839 3412-ET, who is a GP-82 Blowtorch daughter with a VG mammary system. Gameday is currently  No. 9 on the Top GTPI list at +3043, with +1242 for milk and +889 NM$. Out of the same dam is RMD-Dotterer SSI Maximus, sired by Rolan, who is currently coming up through the GForce Young sire program at Select and is +2930 GTPI.

“The progeny from the Blowtorch cow and her Yoder dam will definitely be influential in our herd in the next coming years,” said Mark. “We’ve flushed several animals from that family already.” In addition to Gameday and Maximus, they are also currently using Conway, Dobbins, Parfect, Top Dog, and Renegade in their breeding program.


The Dotterers have recently begun classifying their herd again, scoring 200 animals this March. While they have always registered, RMD spent the last couple years using the Holstein Complete program provided by Holstein USA. “There is a lot of value in classification by providing data for bull studs to improve the breed and sires,” he noted, “plus it helps us to see what’s working and what’s not in our herd.”


While the continued growth of the herd and facilities is important for both Matthew and Mark, their young families could easily provide a fourth generation of Dotterers to dairy farm. Mark’s twins, Max and Morgan, who are juniors in high school, are actively involved in milking and keeping the robots clean.

“The kids haven’t made any decisions yet, but they enjoy the farm so far,” said Mark. “The expansion allows us to make room for the next generation as well.”

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