Automated Dairy Systems

The future of efficient dairy production with expert automation and controls
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

The demand on farmers to produce more is stronger than ever before. As a result, the dairy industry is increasingly moving toward more automation and robotics — systems that can control the entire milking parlor from the cow stalls to proper ventilation, temperature sensing, manure management and more.

Based in Idaho, Automated Dairy Systems (ADS) has been a leader working to fill this need for automation and operational efficiency, specializing in total dairy system design, installation, remodeling and systems integration. The second-generation family-owned business was purchased by Jerry and Susan Higley in 1988 and serves dairies throughout Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, California and Hawaii.

Automated Dairy Systems

“Our expertise is milking cows,” says Jerry Higley, president of ADS. “We’re 100 percent about getting the cow properly, effectively and efficiently milked. We provide the equipment, the service, the maintenance and repair parts and 24/7 service.”

EPIC automation and controls

ADS does not perform full facility construction, but takes pride in tackling anything related to the milking parlor. “We don’t build the building, pour the concrete or do the initial plumbing, but we do everything to do with milking the cow, from the stalls to the vacuum system and automation in the parlor to the stainless steel lines, receivers and milk pumps, all the way through cooling and preparation for the milk to leave the farm,” explains Jerry. “This is our strength; this is where we shine.”

Perhaps the most standout service ADS offers is its Electronic Parlor Integration Control (EPIC) automation, which allows complete access to all of a dairy’s daily milking functions. “Everyone has their own solution, but ours is the most complete, with the most options and customization capabilities in the industry,” says Josiah Higley, Jerry’s youngest son, who heads up ADS’ automation department. “Our goal is to help present the most information to help dairymen make the best decisions for their operation.”

The EPIC Commander line and the EPIC Signature series offer a single system to manage all daily dairy functions for greater consistency, information, control, optimized performance and improved security. EPIC starts with a baseline suite of functions, such as controlling cooling and wash cycles for milk tanks,  automatic draining during CIP cycles, operating cooling compressors on multiple tanks/silos, monitoring milk temperatures and more. “The best thing about EPIC is that a customer can upgrade from this baseline and customize the level of automation,” explains Josiah. “Some barns have weather stations that are integrated to monitor outside temperature and wind speed and they can adjust internal temperatures based on this information. We’re very accommodating and willing to work in add-ons — whatever it is that works best for the customer.”

EPIC also allows dairy farms to access this critical information anywhere. “Our commercial dairymen can access the information they need to know about what’s going on in the barn, no matter where they are, just by looking at their phone or mobile device,” adds Josiah. This fingertip technology is giving customers more control and peace of mind, on or away from the farm.

Natural expansion, strategic locations

With such extensive service offerings and industry experience, it’s hard to believe ADS started as a small single-location dealer in Chino, California. “I was working as a representative for a German dairy company after college and ADS was one of the dealers selling this company’s equipment,” recounts Jerry.

In 1986, the owner of ADS approached Jerry and said he was looking for someone to purchase the company, which at the time had only six employees. “Being Southern California natives, my wife and I thought this was a good opportunity to leave the corporate world and buy the existing ADS dealership,” says Jerry.

After a year or two, Jerry realized the business could take off on a larger scale outside of Chino. “A lot of dairies were being displaced by urban sprawl at this time and we didn’t want to turn the lights out so we decided to go where the industry was strong and growing.”

With family roots in Idaho, Jerry and Susan looked to reincorporate in Jerome, Idaho. “I didn’t have a crystal ball, but I had industry experience and an inkling where dairymen wanted to build new facilities and prosper, so the timing of the move to Jerome was excellent,” says Jerry. “This business is a difficult one to enter, but my background and the capital we had in place provided opportunities for us to expand and grow.”

ADS soon stretched into the Boise Valley and to the eastern side of Idaho’s Magic Valley. “Dairymen were asking for closer service; they didn’t want to wait for a truck to arrive from Jerome,” says Jerry. “This started our addition of many regional supply warehouses.”

A location in Clovis, New Mexico, followed and then Hereford, part of the Texas Panhandle. “About a year and a half ago we added a location in California by purchasing a Land O’Lakes plant in Tulare, about an hour south of Fresno,” says Jerry. “This location made sense because Tulare County alone has one of the highest dairy concentrations in the world. In this county, there are more dairy cows than 42 other U.S. states.”

“We’re excited to be in California, which we expect to be the start of multiple service centers for us,” continues Jerry. “With 1.6 million dairy cows, we expect this market to be strong for a long time and we anticipate opening three to four more stores.”

Over the years, ADS has increased its geographic footprint and the size and scale of the projects it tackles. “When we started, a double 20 was a big project and within just five years we were building up double 50s that milk 100 cows at a time,” says Jerry.

Big improvements on the Big Island

Today, the large-scale commercial dairy farms ADS serves can number in the tens of thousands of animals. The demand for ADS’ products and services now come from all corners of the industry, even as far as Hawaii.

Big Island Dairy, operated by Steve Whitesides, selected ADS for the installation of its fourth milking facility. The key features of this project include: Magnum Double-30 vertical lift stalls and Medallion Cabinets, Meatron 21 Select with milk meters, a Norbco hydraulic-drive crowd gate, Dairy Plan herd management software, an Auto Select 5000 sorting system and more.

The milk at Big Island Dairy is instantly cooled with a Pro-Form Chiller and other key features include CL vacuum pumps, a smart drive vacuum on demand and a milk wash vat reservoir.

ADS is preparing to launch another sizable project in May, installing a new rotary barn for a third-time customer; more remodeling projects throughout Nevada, southern Idaho and Southern California are also underway.

Jerry says ADS is always looking for ways to grow vertically and integrate more products and services to support dairymen 24/7, 365 days a year. Factors such as the price of milk, record droughts and government regulations continue to put pressures on the business. “If a dairyman isn’t getting an adequate price, he’s not going to spend the money to upgrade his facilities, so really our dairy economy is all related to other parts of the ag world, especially feed,” he says.

Factors like this are nearly impossible to control, which is why bringing more precision and efficiency so that farmers can control directly relates to the bottom line. Automated Dairy Systems continues to deliver the products and services that meet daily challenges and help dairy farmers earn more and be more competitive.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
J&D Manufacturing