Sommer Dairy Farm began in the 1960s when Dave Sommer’s parents, Willis and Ruth, bought 120 acres to grow crops and raise dairy cows. Today, Dave and his wife Gloria, along with their son Lance and his wife Nan, their daughter Lisa and her husband Kevin Girod, and their nephew Brandon milk 190 cows outside Berne, Indiana, located in the heart of Amish country. Despite the picturesque surroundings, this farm, Indiana’s newest robotic dairy, is anything but low-tech.


Like many family farms, Sommer Dairy Farm added an “Inc.” to the end of its name in 1976 for legal reasons, but this farm has no outside employees — only five family members working on the farm. In 1988, a major fire devastated the farm, and the Sommers had to rebuild. The farm expanded in the 1990s to allow son-in-law Kevin, to join the operation. The farm expanded again in 2006, when son, Lance, joined the farm full-time.


In 2013, just five years after building a brand-new barn, the Sommers were again planning a remodel—this time to install five Lely robotic milking machines. By working with a local supplier, Kaeb Sales, the Sommers were able to bring in some seriously high-tech automation to their farm—the cows can milk themselves using the robots, brush themselves with automatic cow brushes, and even clean up after themselves with an “alley scraper” that is essentially the cow equivalent to self-cleaning cat litter box. The Sommers also use a robotic feed pusher that rearranges the cows’ food regularly so they don’t have to strain to reach their meal. The baby calves at Sommer Dairy Farm also get fed by robots — an automatic calf feeder that mixes the correct amount of formula to ensure each individual calf is getting the proper amount of milk.


In addition to a dairy farm, the Sommers also grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa hay — both to feed to their dairy cows and to sell.