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GRANTSBURG—When 24-hour milking resumes sometime in 2018 at the Four Cubs Farm southeast of Grantsburg, most of the milking for the 900-cow herd will be done by robots.

A fire on Nov. 1 destroyed the farm’s milking facility that had been remodeled many times in the farm’s 122-year history.

“We have decided to put a robot facility in the main barn,” said Cris Peterson, who with her husband Gary and next generation Ben and Nicki Peterson operate Burnett County’s largest dairy operation.

“Right now we’re still doing demolition,” she added, as an employee using a backhoe cleared and moved fire debris in piles for removal.

What the impact of robotic milking will be on the current work force is unclear at this time, she said. “The facility will have 16 robots through the whole barn. The plan is still in the development stage.”

The only Holstein cattle on the farm today are 100 dry cows and about 300 heifers.

Their cows from the heifer grower’s farm were transported to the main farm to reduce expenses. “We have no milk, so we have no income. That’s why we brought those cows back – to eat our feed and cut our costs,” she said. “Having cows here keeps the barn from freezing too.”

She said footings for the new facility will be poured in December as weather allows, with hopes of getting the first milk cows back starting in February. “The construction is a big process and it may be the end of summer before it’s all done,” she said.

Today Four Cubs cattle are spread among a half dozen dairy farms around northwestern Wisconsin, and most of the farm’s milking crew followed the cows to their new surroundings. Some may stay there permanently.

Cris said having cows “spread all over kingdom come” creates a lot of extra work. Their herd manager is often gone to visit the various farms and transport cattle.

“We have to transport cattle one way or the other almost every day,” she said, “because we do the calving here. Every three days we have to take cows to another farm and bring back dry cows. The expense is great and it’s all part of the loss.”

Cris said if it turns out that the Four Cubs farm employs a smaller staff of milkers after the robots are added, they won’t have any trouble finding work. All the Mexicans who do the milking are in the US legally and they occasionally return home to see their families. Peterson said all dairy farmers agree that finding good workers is a challenge, and few native-born Americans are willing to do the work.

Everyone at Four Cubs Farm is so uplifted by the amazing community support they’ve received, and it helps make them optimistic for the future. “We’ll be up and running by the time Grace Nursery School schedules their annual visit in May. We couldn’t miss that!” Cris said.