The Future of Dairy Farming: How Soybeans and Robots Are Reshaping the Industry

People taking a tour of a dairy barn on the Oakfield Corners Dairy tour in New York State.

Automation helps with our daily lives, whether it’s the coffee maker that starts your morning ritual or the robot that helps put milk on the table.

Farmer-directors recently toured Oakfield Corners Dairy — part of Lamb Farms, a family-owned farm in New York — to see how automation is helping the dairy industry and how soy impacts herd health.

Lamb Farms was founded in 1966 when they started milking 110 cows. Today, two generations and 13 family members are involved in the blended family business. Recently, Jonathan Lamb and his wife, Alicia, along with other family members, decided to upgrade their 60-year-old herringbone parlor with labor-efficient automated milking robots. The family chose a 72-stall robotic rotary system with a robotic milker at each stall.

The rotary system allows cows to step on and off while automatically being milked by the robots. Currently, Oakfield Corners Dairy milks 2,850 cows three times a day. The cows produce about 32,000 gallons (or 275,000 pounds) of milk daily.

“It’s what the farm needed to go forward,” Alicia says. “Any time you start a new operation or begin working with new equipment, there are challenges. And the first year was a pretty significant learning curve for all of us here on the farm, including the cows.”

Not only are they saving on labor costs, but the cows are also healthier and more productive. This high-tech blend of robotics and nutrition powered by soy is revolutionizing dairy farming.

“Our cows are healthy, doing well and milking well,” Alicia says. “Our milk quality is tremendous, so it was a very good decision for the business.”

The automated milking system has helped reduce the need for labor while allowing the family the ability to expand the dairy. They currently have 35 full- and part-time employees, including mechanics, herdsmen and students. One herdsman works with the rotary milker per shift, but they would have needed at least five without the robotic system.

“For all of the technology, it still takes a herdsman to make sure the animals are healthy and happy,” Keith Keberle, a farm manager and longtime employee at Oakfield Corners Dairy, says. “They like to be milked, and they like to go for a ride every day.”

A man feeds hay to dairy cows.

How Soybeans Contribute to Improving Milk Quality and Production

Keenan McRoberts, Ph.D., vice president of strategic alignment for the United Soybean Board, attended the tour with other farmer-leaders.

“Animal agriculture is the No. 1 customer for us soybean farmers to the tune of 97% of soybean meal crushed here in the U.S. goes into animal rations,” McRoberts says.

Dairy cows enjoy feed containing soybeans at the Oakfield Corners Dairy in New York.

Soybeans are the primary protein source for dairy cows at Oakfield Corners Dairy. They utilize a Cargill nutrition system featuring soy protein to maximize the herd’s nutritional needs.

High oleic soybeans allow dairy farmers to raise or secure an efficient feed ingredient that includes beneficial fat. Dairy cows can consume high oleic soybeans in various forms, including whole soybeans or higher-fat soybean meal ingredients.

“High oleic soybeans demonstrate the innovation of U.S. Soy,” says McRoberts. “While they deliver solutions for frying food and innovative new uses for soy like biodegradable plastics, they also support dairy system profitability.”

For decades, improvements in dairy production due to technology have reduced the feed dairy cattle need.

“Continuous improvements from U.S. soybean farmers allow them to grow more with less, and they are making progress toward sustainability goals,” McRoberts says. “Innovations like high oleic soybeans and ongoing soy research for the dairy industry represent small contributions to improving dairy production and sustainability.”

U.S. Soy delivers an amino acid profile and a low carbon footprint that effectively supplement cattle nutrition worldwide. This combination of qualities in a plant-based protein source ensures that dairy products deliver flavorful, sustainable nutrition.

New York Agriculture by the numbers according to the USDA 2017 Ag Census:

  • New York is a leading agricultural state, worth $5.75 billion in revenue in 2017.
  • In 2017, there were 33,438 farms in New York State and 6,866,171 acres in production.
  • New York farms employ 55,363 people.
  • Dairy and milk production accounts for nearly 26,000 jobs in New York State.
  • Grain and oilseed farming employs nearly 15,500.  
  • Veggie and melon farming is responsible for 7,750 jobs. 
  • 98% of farms in New York are family owned.


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