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Large-herd dairy producers with automated milking systems requested to take survey

Fernanda Ferreira and Camila Lage for Progressive Dairy Published on 07 June 2021
Ferreir automated milking system

Automated milking systems are trending upwards in the U.S., and there is an increasing interest from large dairies to adopt this technology. Recently, our group got a competitive grant funded by the California Dairy Research Foundation that aims to describe the opportunities and challenges associated with the implementation of automated milking systems in large dairy herds across the U.S. This project is a collaboration between University of California – Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the University of Minnesota.

We are surveying and interviewing large-herd dairy farmers across the U.S. who have implemented automated milking systems. The survey is online, but we usually follow up with a phone call. That is when we learn the most, and farmers have been great in sharing their experiences with our research team. Our objective is to better understand the decision-making process when transitioning to an automated milking system and the most important aspects related to management before, during and after installing the automated milking system.

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To date, our survey has 20 respondents distributed across nine states in the U.S., averaging 888 cows milked in an automated milking system. We also took a deep dive into automated milking system research for the past 20 years to understand what science-based recommendations regarding nutrition, welfare, management and economics of automated milking systems in large dairies were available.

In this article, we are sharing some of the early insights we are recieving from these early surveys. While the main reasons for automated milking system adoption were to improve cows’ welfare and to reduce labor costs (81% of the respondents), the potential to increase the technology level of the farm was also mentioned. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents believe that transitioning to an automated milking system reduced labor on their dairy, and 50% reported reductions greater than 20% in the number of full-time employees after installing an automated milking system, which was aligned with their expectations.

Although most farmers would be willing to recommend automated milking systems to others (67%), 27% said that transitioning to an automated milking system should be done with caution. Farmers should weigh important factors such as management style, ability to handle large amounts of data, use of data for decision making and the need for technical support, among others, before fully transitioning to an automatic milking system.

The perceptions toward transitioning to an automated milking system were positive: Between 57% and 86% agree that transitioning to an automated milking system improved the quality of life of their cows, cows’ milk production, overall management of the farm, reproductive performance of the herd and the quality of life of their employees. However, only 21% agreed that an automated milking system improved their herd profitability, and 50% of the respondents were neutral on this statement. Our preliminary data highlight the importance and the need for more comprehensive economic studies focusing on automated milking systems in large dairies.

If you are a large-herd dairy farmer milking with robots (more than seven robots) or know someone who fits this criterion, we would appreciate if you could answer or share our online survey. It takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. The data is confidential, and we will only use the information provided aggregated with everybody else’s data. 

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For more information, contact Dr. Fernanda Ferreira via email or Dr. Camila Lage via email.  end mark

Fernanda Carolina Ferreira is a herd health and management economics specialist from the University of California – Davis School of Veterinary Medicine – Vet. Med. Teaching and Research Center. Email Fernanda Carolina Ferreira.

PHOTO: Staff photo.

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