Following are some observations I have made over the years from numerous visits to these operations; reading reports and articles; and discussions with owner/operators, dairy designers and builders, advisors and robot supply personnel in Europe, Canada and the US.
Comments and observations are in no particular order and the list is not complete:
- Healthy, mobile and clean cows that are motivated to eat are essential.
- Successful managers institute “extreme cow care” comfort, cleanliness and health practices.
- There has been no significant change in capital costs. Predicted decreases have yet to occur.
- Operating costs are difficult to predict.
- Reasonable expected operating life of hardware before replacement or major overhaul is still variable.
- There is a supply of second hand reconditioned robots developing in Western Europe but no apparent consensus on the advisability of taking this option.
- Typical reports indicate the primary impact on labor is more flexibility in scheduling and more time spent in management. Savings may become more obvious or accountable with larger numbers of robots on a single farm.
- The robot can call you anytime day or night. Learning what alarms are critical and how to respond to them is still as much and art as a science.
- A strong comfort level with computer interaction is necessary to take maximum advantage from the production, health and management information that the robot will provide.
- Stall maintenance and bedding replenishment must be done with minimum disturbance of cows’ routines. Robot placement and installation
- There is no consensus on optimum number of robots per cow group or group size?
- Some believe that giving cows an opportunity to select which side she is to be milked from would be advantageous.
- Making things comfortable for the timid cow by reducing opportunities for boss cows to control robot access is important.
- Positive pressure conditioned air space for the robot to enhance operation and satisfy needs for fly control etc.
- How to best provide access to the robot for the operator without traveling through cow travel lanes is still debated.
- Higher levels of climate control in more severe climates – automatic natural or mechanical ventilation is common.
- Determination of the optimum layout to encourage desired cow traffic to robot, feed and water.
- Clean slip resistant comfortable flooring.
- Where and how to separate and hold cows requiring human attention.
Only you can decide if this technology is in your future. If it sounds interesting take advantage of tours, open houses and feel free to contact one of the Pennsylvania businesses that support this new technology.
----- Robert E. Graves, Professor Extension Agricultural Engineer Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, Penn State