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How to manage the data dump from robotic milking systems

Paul Berdell Published on 11 June 2015

Woman at a computer

Robotic milking systems provide an incredible amount of data by measuring more than 100 variables per cow per day. For some, all of this new information can be overwhelming to the point they’d rather not even look at it.

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For others, they are so eager to explore the data they spend an excessive amount of time overanalyzing information and lose sight of the data that is most important.

Both of these scenarios can be detrimental to successfully employing a robotic system. Keep the data manageable by focusing on five core reports. These core reports will highlight the information needed to ensure a herd and the robotic milking system are performing at their peak.

1.Milk conductivity

Quality milk and healthy animals are keys to a profitable dairy. With robotic milking systems, cows aren’t being visually inspected as frequently as they are with manual milking, so a conductivity report helps producers detect early signs of mastitis in the herd.

A conductivity report can easily flag 10 to 12 cows, if not more, so a producer should filter through the cows that have been flagged to identify ones that need human attention.

For cows on the conductivity alert, look deeper to see what triggered the flag: Was it a specific quarter? Was the milk color off for that quarter? Also, see if there is anything else going on with the cow that would make one suspicious, such as longer milking times or the unit not attaching to a specific quarter.

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By reviewing a daily conductivity report, producers can help catch mastitis cases earlier and maintain milk quality. By spending a few more minutes digging deeper into the data on this report, producers can decide which cows on the list need immediate attention and which ones can go on a watch list.

2.Milk deviation

Reviewing a report on milk deviation can quickly help producers identify cows milking inconsistently from one day to the next or steadily decreasing production. This is important to look at as a separate report because a cow decreasing in milk production might not have high conductivity and wouldn’t appear on that report.

A drop in milk production can also be a sign of a secondary issue, from problems with the ration to early signs of bovine respiratory disease. Significant drops should be addressed sooner rather than later.

A milk deviation report, sorted by highest to lowest, can be quickly skimmed to pick out animals that warrant deeper investigation. Keep in mind when reviewing the data to look at total drop, as the cow might visit the robot three times one day and four times the next, which could show a decrease per milking while total per day could remain consistent. Setting parameters for drops in milk production or visits to the robot will provide a guide for skimming the report.

3.Fresh cows

This delicate group of animals is the lifeblood of milk production for the herd. They are also at high risk for several health conditions, from ketosis and displaced abomasum to mastitis and pneumonia. Early identification of these conditions is essential, and therefore analyzing a daily fresh cow report is a must.

If a fresh cow gets off to a slow start, it can impact her entire lactation. Automated systems run off seven-day averages and percentages for triggering flags, so a separate fresh cow report focused on early lactation, 21 days and under, is critical to catching fresh cow issues.

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Be sure to include multiple data points such as conductivity, milk production, number of times they visit the robot and grain consumption, to highlight a few. The data from a fresh cow report will be invaluable to ensuring health and maximizing production for the entire lactation.

4.Activity

Activity monitoring can be one of the best tools for a producer to identify sick or lame animals, or animals that have issues on the horizon. Set the report criteria to flag cows visiting the robot less frequently, or have decreased rumination or eating time, as these can be signs of an animal going off-feed and that needs to be examined. As soon as a cow’s feed intake starts to drop, a ripple effect can be seen in milk production and usually health.

5.Machine performance

It’s just as important to monitor the robotic system for any signs of mechanical issues as it is to monitor the cows. If an animal is having an attachment problem, is it the animal or the machine causing the issue?

The most important items to look at to analyze machine performance would be the number of failed attachments, number of milkings per day and percent of free time or milking time left on the machine. By quickly scanning these items on a report, a producer can spot likely mechanical issues to correct before they become a major problem.

The bottom line

Robotic milking systems are designed to help simplify life while improving management decisions with better data. Analyzing these five core reports will take roughly 30 minutes a day and will keep producers focused on the information most crucial to identifying health and performance issues and animals that need care.

It’s also important to remember it takes months to build specific data information for a herd. Producers can’t milk cows on a robot for a week and have an accurate lactation curve; they need to have at least three months of cows calving in and drying off before they would have reliable data for more advanced analysis.

Once a producer has mastered analyzing these core reports on a daily basis, they will be more prepared to dive into advanced data analysis of things like early lactation performance versus late lactation.

These advanced reports are helpful for pushing herds to the next level of performance, but cannot replace the essential data from the core reports that will help keep the herd healthy and productive. PD

For more information, contact Paul Berdell, robotic milking system expert with GEA Farm Technologies at (877) 973-2479, email , or go to the website .

PHOTO
Focus on five core reports to keep data from robotic milking systems manageable. Photo courtesy of GEA Farm Technologies.

Walt Cooley
  • Paul Berdell

  • Robotic Milking System Expert
  • GEA Farm Technologies
  • Email Paul Berdell

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