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Central VA Section June 25, 2017 Social

Down on the Farm – Technology on the Modern Farm

In celebration of National Dairy Month, the IEEE Central Virginia Section is held a family social that will demonstrated the use of technology on a modern dairy farm.


Cub Run Dairy (milking parlor)
9605 Dairy Rd.
McGaheysville, VA 22842

Activities and demonstrations:

  1. Observe milking operation while it happens
  2. See data displays related to milking operation and monitoring of cows
  3. View (from inside) GPS tractor with intelligent planter
  4. View (from inside) GPS combine (harvester)
  5. Photographs of other areas of farm that are off-limits for viewing

Click for the PDF of the PowerPoint presentation from the social (13.6 MB PDF).

Farm Description:

About The Farm

Cub Run Dairy is a dairy and turkey growing operation in eastern Rockingham County. The owners, Gerald and Anita Heatwole and their son Monte and his wife LaVonne, invest in the future by using the latest technology throughout the farm.

The dairy operation includes about 525 Holstein cows that are milked 3 times per day in a new high-tech milking parlor completed late in 2016, plus calves and heifers to increase the herd and replace dry (cows do not produce milk during the last several months of pregnancy) and aging cows. Milk is produced for the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.

The turkey operation grows turkeys for Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative. There are 9000 turkeys in each of two growing houses. Turkeys arrive at age 5 weeks weighing 5 lbs. and leave at age 19 weeks and weigh about 45 lbs. when finished.

Milking Parlor

The milking parlor allows 48 cows to be milked simultaneously (in two rows of 24) by three workers. It takes about two hours to milk all 525 cows.

When a cow enters a stall to be milked, a sensor reads an RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tag in her ear so that the data collected from each milking is automatically tracked. A flow meter associated with each milker tracks the amount of milk produced and automatically disconnects the vacuum when the flow rate reaches a preset minimum, automatically dropping the milker from the cow.

If a cow needs special attention (typically post-calving) or breeding, the RFID tag is used to operate gates automatically to steer her into a holding pen.

Activity Monitor

Each cow and heifer wears a collar with a pedometer and transmitter that tracks her activity level and reports it to a computer via an antenna and receiver when she is in range. Low activity can indicate that the cow is not feeling well, has a sore foot, or other abnormality. Conversely, as cows come into heat their activity level increases, and the computer program identifies the optimum time to breed them.

Planting and Harvesting

Tractors and the combine/harvester are equipped with GPS so that planting and harvesting is performed accurately. In the hilly fields in this area, the GPS maintains position accuracy to about 1" when planting and harvesting. Precision planting allows fertilizer application to be varied when planting based on the soil analysis determined from satellite imagery.

Planters are programmed for the number of seeds to be planted per acre and will warn the operator if seeds are missed.

Grain storage and Drying

Grain is stored in multiple storage bins. Grains stored are corn, soybeans, and wheat. Grain is dried if needed to control the final moisture content. Real-time moisture measurements control the grain flow rate through the dryer to minimize the energy (cost) of drying the grain.

Turkey Houses

The temperature of the turkey houses is controlled to a curve based on the age of the turkeys. At 5 weeks, the houses are set to 72F, decreasing to 58F at 15 weeks and older. If the temperature is below the desired value, the houses are heated with propane. If the temperature is above the desired value, air flow through the house is increased by end fans (air tunnel). If air flow is insufficient to cool the house (e.g. on a hot summer day), distributed foggers are activated to provide additional cooling.

Photos of the Dairy

Cub Run Dairy: New Milking Parlor on Dairy Rd.
Cub Run Dairy: New Milking Parlor on Dairy Rd.
  • The milking parlor is up the steps from the center door. Cows leaving the milking parlor can be seen through the open doors.
  • The milking parlor is the lighted area at the rear of the photo.
  • Data includes the cow's activity and the amount of milk produced at each milking.
  • Turkeys are very curious. When the door was opened for the previous photograph, they immediately started moving toward the door to see what's happening.
  • All grain to be dried is routed to the holding bin with the green supporting legs and then to the dryer.



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