Some farmers say high-tech milking robots have the potential to save family dairies.

The robots have spread to about 50 dairies in Minnesota and Wisconsin after first being installed in the region six years ago. The robots not only milk the cows but also control their feed.

The robots' Dutch manufacturer, Lely, recently expanded its North American headquarters in Iowa to include a 36,000-square-foot production facility, the company's first outside the Netherlands.

The 3,000-pound, red robo-milkers cost between $150,000 and $200,000 each, but are seen as a way to save labor costs and free farmers from the hours of milking twice a day seven days a week.

The machines work around the clock, except for twice-daily cleaning sessions. They also eliminate the chore of corralling cows for milking: After being trained to accept the robot, cows get milked whenever they please.

The robot measures production and knows if a cow needs to be milked more or less often.

— Compiled by Staff Writer Robert Digitale from staff and wire reports. Submit items to