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Manure matters in robotic dairy barn design

Jeramy Sanford for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 August 2017
Manure management

Designing a robotic milking barn, whether it’s a new build or a retrofit, involves a lot of moving parts and pieces, with many experts involved along the way.

However, it’s important for a manure-handling expert to have a seat at the table from the very beginning.



Having a manure expert involved early in the design phase can help keep your barn as clean and automated as possible. Getting the design right up-front can also reduce the need for costly, unnecessary changes later.

Cow flow

Cow traffic is one of the main considerations when designing a robot barn. The type of cow flow desired will impact robot placement, bunk location, gates needed and more. But you also need to consider how your cow traffic system impacts manure removal.

Posts and gates direct cows through the barn, and are hard to scrape around. Involving a manure expert early in the design process can help you evaluate post and gate placement to avoid blocking manure alleys. Otherwise, if you wait until the design is complete to consider manure, you’ll likely spend time and money moving posts and gates for efficient manure removal.

No matter the cow traffic system, keeping the barn as clean and as automated as possible should be a focus. At the end of the day, it’s about being able to collect manure efficiently without disrupting cow flow and comfort.

Keep it clean

The areas surrounding the robots are often the highest-traffic areas in the barn. Manure removal in this area is key since it impacts cow cleanliness when entering and exiting the robot. However, barn design and manure experts can have differing opinions on how to handle these areas.


Many barn designs recommend a smooth transition into the robot so cows can walk straight in without having to step up. This is a great option for cow traffic and encouraging visits to the robot, but it can present a manure removal challenge.

To properly clean and scrape the areas around the robot with an automated manure removal system, the area should be elevated. Therefore, the barn designer and manure expert should work together early in the design process to determine what works best for both cows and management.

Importance of automation

One of the primary goals of robotic milking is to reduce labor. Automated manure removal can reduce labor even further, eliminating time spent manually scraping and cleaning the barn.

Automated manure removal can also eliminate the challenge of manure removal with skid loaders. Cows in a robotic barn have a less regimented schedule than cows in a traditional parlor setup and are likely to stand or lie in the path of the skid loader.

Automated manure removal will minimize the amount of disruption to cow traffic, which can negatively impact milking times and production levels.

Alley scrapers

Alley scrapers are the most common type of automated manure removal systems in robotic milking barns. However, they can cause a lot of headaches if not properly integrated into overall barn design.


One of the biggest mistakes made when designing automated scraper systems is not putting in a groove. The groove acts as a guide for the scraper – much like a rudder on a sailboat. The guiding groove holds the scraper straight down the alley for a more efficient clean. Whether you are using a chain or cable scraper, a guiding groove is necessary.

Changing alley widths between the manure alley and the area around the robots can also present a challenge. Alley width changes should be noted early in the design phase so a manure expert can help accommodate equipment and layout changes for the most efficient manure removal process.

Flush systems

Water use may leave you hesitant to use a flush system for manure removal, especially in a robotic facility where a key benefit is the reduction of washwater used. However, a flush system is a very efficient method for manure removal, is low maintenance and requires very little labor.

If you’re considering a flush system for a robotic facility, it’s critical to bring your manure specialist in early. Robotic milking barns have many corners to turn, changing alley widths and other considerations needing careful planning. A manure expert can help place flush heads and robots in the ideal location for cow flow and provide a clean area to enter and exit the robot.

Be sure to work with your manure and barn expert from the very beginning of the design process to help keep your new robotic facility as clean and automated as possible.  end mark

PHOTO: Work with your manure expert to design a manure management system customized to your barn. Courtesy photo.

Jeramy Sanford
  • Jeramy Sanford

  • Nutrient & Separation Specialist
  • GEA
  • Email Jeramy Sanford