There are many other factors that should be considered when thinking about the best milking system for your dairy. Some of these include:
- "Management makes milk — robots only harvest it." This quote is from Doug Kastenschmidt, a Wisconsin dairy farmer whose cows average over 100 pounds per day with robots. Robots require a high level of management to be successful.
- Desire of farm managers to observe cow behavior and make adjustments to improve performance.
- Skill and interest of the managers. Robots take more technical skill that other milking systems. The manager should enjoy using software for the greatest benefit. A higher level of repair skill is required. Maintenance cost will be lower if someone on the farm develops the skill to perform some of the simple repairs.
- Feed management skill. Excellent feed management is important to keep cow flow to the robots consistent and for good performance.
- Future expansion. Currently the box type robots on the market are able to milk about 50 to 70 cows per box. If future expansion is planned, expansion must be in 60-cow increments and increased investment in robots will be required. In parlor systems, increasing milking hours is often all that is required.
- Willingness to be on call around the clock. Someone on the farm must be willing to take calls from the robot around the clock. If you are not prepared for this, it can be frustrating.
Robots are effective at milking and have the ability to harvest high quality milk consistently. Most dairy farmers who install robots with the correct expectations and realistic cash flows are happy with their decision and enjoy an improved lifestyle.
Figure 1. Cost comparison of different milking systems. Adapted from Larry Tranel, Iowa State University.
Tie stall (TS) - $35,400 labor/yr
Low cost parlor (LCP) - $25,000 capital ($4,250 annual), $14,600 labor
Medium cost parlor (MCP) - $50,000 capital ($8,500 annual), $14,600 labor
High cost parlor (HCP) - $100,000 capital ($17,000 annual), $14,600 labor
New parlor (NP) - $250,000 capital ($42,500 annual), $14,600 labor
Robot - (10% increase in milk) $59,600 annual