By Rodnesha McNeal
About 76 years ago, the Chaney family cared for their cows by hand. They spent hours feeding, milking and brushing the cows. Now, the Chaneys are leaving this job up to robots.
Carl Chaney, the owner of Chaney’s Dairy Farm, was on the edge of putting the cows up for sale, but his kids disagreed. They decided to build a new barn and include robots that feed and milk the cows.
Located off U.S. 31W, the Chaney family bought the farm in 1888. The farm became a dairy farm in 1940 when the family bought its first two cows. The family began making homemade ice cream and today it is the main feature at a small restaurant the family opened, called Chaney’s Dairy Barn.
However, the new generation of Chaneys is not as dedicated to farming as their ancestors.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find people interested in milking cows and working on a farm,” Carl Chaney said.
He contemplated putting the cows up for sale. “It really tore me up to even think about having to sell the cows,” he said.
When he broached the idea to Jessica, one of his daughters, she asked herself if she really wanted to come back to milk the cows.
“The answer for me was no,” Jessica Chaney said.
But she realized that the farm was important to her family and community.
“I see this family tradition as a way of life,” she said. “I feel like what we offer to the public is not just a restaurant and ice cream; I feel like it is an education.
“We are able to educate kids and adults where their food comes from and how it is developed – giving that knowledge to kids so that they won’t literally think chocolate milk comes from a chocolate cow.”
Having a profitable ice cream business, but few family members excited about milking cows, the Chaneys had to come up with an idea. The family could not make its ice cream without the required milk.
“I feel like between my sister (Elizabeth) and I – she has a marketing degree and I have a finance degree – we could blend our knowledge and find a way to continue our operations,” Jessica Chaney said.
The sisters heard about the robots and began to conduct research. Jessica Chaney ran the numbers. Elizabeth Chaney talked to people to find out what did and did not work. They discovered that robots could milk cows, so they decided to invest in Lely Astronaut machines.
Chaney’s is the third dairy farm in Kentucky to purchase robots, Carl Chaney said. Purchased for about $260,000, the Lely Astronaut is able to milk cows 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the company’s website.
The robots will be up and running soon, Carl Chaney said. They’ll be able to milk the cows and check their health. The robot will attach the teat (nipple) cups, and detach the cups after milking. The robot will identify if any cow is having an issue and contact someone, such as Carl Chaney, with an alert about any issue with a cow.
With robots, farmers are able to increase production 10 to 15 percent, Carl Chaney said. The company built a new barn, which Carl Chaney expected to be opening for tours within weeks, where the cows and robots are housed.
With the investment, Chaney said, the next generation of Chaneys will continue to breed Jersey cows, milk them and sell ice cream.