EASTON, N.Y. -- As a sixth-generation dairy farmer, Tom Borden has seen many changes over the years.
"I remember seeing the old milk cans laying around back in the 50s," Borden said Monday.
The latest improvement to his family's 180-year-old Washington County farm may seem like something more out of the space age. Twenty-first century robots now automatically handle everything from milking to feeding and even the less than desirable task of cleaning up manure.
“It’s not the cleanest work and there are long hours,” Borden said. "A robot doesn't mind, it's hard to find a lot of other people who don't though."
On Monday afternoon, Rep. Bill Owens toured Borden's new high-tech barn, which opened in early November. As nifty as they look, the upgrades are designed to boost production and offset growing labor costs.
"Health insurance is going to be a big deal,” Borden said. “We're already seeing increases in unemployment, workers comp costs."
"As the regulations get tighter, as enforcement gets tighter, it's going to be more and more difficult to get people," Owens said.
"A lot of times farmers complain they can't even get it [labor], no matter what the cost," said Borden, president of Washington County’s Farm Bureau.
Historically, Borden milked his 200 cows twice a day. In the new barn, which has room for 109 animals, he is able to boost that average to 3.3 per cow while reducing his staff by one.
"That's a big deal and that was one of the big things to make this justifiable financially," said Borden, whose farm produces milk for Stewart's Shops.
"Tom said to me he believes this is going to be a five percent increase in his milk volume," Owens said following his tour.
Borden says his total investment, which included the new barn and two robotic milking parlors, approached $1.2 million. At such an expense, the new equipment is somewhat of a rarity, but he and Owens believe long-term it could revolutionize the dairy industry.
"I think this is the direction folks really need to be looking at," Owens said.
"Maybe in 15 or 20 years we'll laugh at what this looks like now,” Borden said. “Right now this looks like the best thing going."