Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

The right routine for robotic milking

John Gerbitz and Brittany Core for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 September 2019
Robot milker

A well-established routine doesn’t always mean doing the same thing, at the same time, every day. In fact, routines in a robotic barn are often anything but “routine.” The size of the farm, the number of employees and layout of the barn are just a few of the factors that go into protocol development.

As we explain the management styles in robotic farming, we often start by comparing to the more commonly known practices involved in conventional milking. In a parlor, a routine focuses on two areas: people and equipment. In the world of robotics, both of those factors come into play, but the routines of the people are changed drastically. Rather than preparing udders and attaching milkers, the people are taking a step back to manage and monitor an entire system.

advertisement

advertisement

Skills of the people vary from farm to farm, especially depending on the size of the farm. However, all robotic dairies require employees whose skill sets include computer-based skills, the ability to understand technology and complete basic maintenance, and ensuring clean cows come to the robot.

Routine tasks on small farms often provide more flexibility day-to-day, while on large farms the routines and protocols must adhere to a strict schedule to maintain optimum productivity. All robotic dairies start with the same basic recommendations for daily and weekly tasks, and these are based on maintaining steady traffic to the robot in order to reach peak production (see sidebar below).

Robotic dairies (of any size) that perform above-average pay extra attention to a few parts of the recommended routines. Their robots are very carefully cleaned, they spend extra time training fresh cows (www.progressivedairy.com/topics/management/train-fresh-cows-for-robotic-milking-success), and they act quickly on any alarm from the robot. Cows that need to be fetched are given extra attention, and data is carefully analyzed.

An important data point that can influence the overall routine on a farm is the volume of traffic to the robot at any given time. Cows produce the best and remain the healthiest when they are able to get up and milk when they want to, without having to stand and wait their turn. If there are certain times of the day where there is very high traffic or very low traffic, you are missing some of the potential of the robot. Evaluate what is being done around the farm during those times and think about how the routine could be rearranged to encourage more consistent flow to the robot.

As we think about how we can vary the order of the routine tasks, there’s an important point of comparison to conventional milking to consider. In a parlor setting, you have the ability to lock the cows up to perform herd checks, breeding and vaccinations. When robots are introduced, these tasks may occur at different and multiple times throughout the day.

advertisement

For example, when the robot is busy catching up on fetch cows, it’s a good opportunity to complete additional herd management tasks. When the traffic to the robot is slower, it’s a chance to clean the robots and perform maintenance. These things won’t always happen at the same time every day. The focus is more on the number of times per day the events happen than on the time they happen. We want to teach the cows to visit the robot 2.5 to three times per day, and the times those visits occur is less important.

Barn design and the number of employees will also impact the effectiveness of the robotic dairy routine. Well-designed barns can accommodate more robots with fewer people, whereas a retrofit or less ideal layout will require a different level of employee skill and hours.

Managing employees is a key to success in robotic milking herds, both maximizing the efficiency of the employees’ working routine as well as capitalizing on strengths of individual employees. At any number of robots under eight, it’s most efficient for all employees to be well-rounded in all areas. Farms with more than eight robots may choose to develop fewer, more specific skills per employee, such as breeding, feeding or focusing on special-needs cows. Farms with four or fewer robots require two full-time equivalents to take care of calving, calves, heifers and cows in an efficient barn layout.

Regardless of the size of the facility, the person in charge of feeding, fresh cows, breeding, dry cows, calves and heifers can be organized similarly to a conventional farm. Technology can be used for these groups of animals whether it is data in the computer, automated feeding systems, activity systems, body condition scoring or cameras showing what is happening live in the barn on your phone.

Today’s employees who can adapt and learn how to use this equipment will be more highly sought after. Those who, after working with cows, show the ability to manage people will be a valuable asset for larger farms and most likely to effectively carry out a routine that will maximize production and efficiency.

Although we do recommend a list of daily, weekly and monthly tasks, we encourage flexibility around the order in which those tasks are completed each day. In training and fetching, we don’t want to teach cows to follow our routines. A priority in robotic milking is a natural environment for the cows. We want the herd to establish their routines and be comfortable. With the right training for both the cows and employees, we can build a schedule that influences the herd’s routine for the convenience and management goals of the operator.  end mark

advertisement

PHOTO: Cows produce the best and remain the healthiest when they are able to get up and milk when they want to, without having to stand and wait their turn. Evaluate traffic patterns to find out if you are missing some of the potential of the robot. Photo courtesy of DeLaval.

Brittany Core is also a dairy advisor with DeLaval. Email Brittany Core

John Gerbitz
  • John Gerbitz

  • Dairy Advisor
  • DeLaval
  • Email John Gerbitz

Basic task recommendations for robot routines

Daily:

  • Perform two-minute check: a quick check of the computer screens that are live and updated continuously to find cows that require additional attention

  • Fetch cows two to three times per day

  • Check, maintain and clean robots, robot rooms and bulk tank room (approx. 15 to 20 minutes per day)

  • Clean crossovers/holding pens and waterers

  • Change filters

  • Groom stalls

  • Lay out and push up feed

  • Breed cows

  • Bring up fresh/new cows four to five times daily

  • Walk the herd and take care of troubling cows

Weekly:

  • Bed the stalls

  • Perform herd health tasks such as footbaths and vaccinations

  • Dry off

  • Work with incomplete cows

  • Evaluate herd management reports

Monthly:

  • Singe udders

  • Trim hooves

  • Calibrate robots

  • Perform scheduled robot maintenance

  • Evaluate herd management reports

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS