More than 50% of attendees at a World Dairy Expo robotic milking seminar indicated interest in or plans to install milking robots in the future. Marcia Endres, University of Minnesota Extension dairy scientist, suggests several questions to ask yourself before making that decision.
• Do you or your employees like working with cows?
Cows milked in robotic milking systems (RMS) still require close attention. Research shows most successful producers enjoy working with cows and don't have the attitude of putting a robot in the barn and leaving cows to their own. It just makes one chore – milking – easier, giving you more work time flexibility.
• Do you have the best ration/feeding management?
How and what cows are fed in a RMS herd is one of the most important keys for success. A Pennsylvania dairy producer increased average daily milk production per cow from about 60 lbs. to 80 lbs. by changing ration formulation and feeding management under the advice of an expert RMS nutritionist. It is important to balance the partial mixed ration that goes in the feed bunk to less than the average daily milk production goal per cow, then supplement according to stage of lactation with the robot pellets. The pellets must be palatable to attract cows to the milking station.
• How is your barn?
Good cow comfort in needed in any dairy system. For RMS, it is even more important that cows are healthy and willing to come to the milking station. A high prevalence of lameness will probably increase the number of fetch cows and reduce robot efficiency. It is necessary to have good cow flow. Think about how to design the barn to accommodate special needs cows.
• Are you handy with equipment?
These systems are high-tech and expensive. If you can learn how to fix little things, it will help make RMS more affordable in the long run, and reduce the number of failures and problems affecting robot efficiency. A key factor for success in RMS farms is the amount of milk produced per robot per day. Excellent dairies are getting 5,000+ lbs. per day.
• Is the service provider nearby?
For major repairs and routine maintenance, it is important to have an accessible company. If the RMS breaks down for a long period of time, things can get really out of control and create a ‘train wreck" very fast.
• Do you like technology?
There is so much information about every cow that you can use to optimize performance and health. RMS companies are developing even more decision-making tools that will help organize your day and create task lists.
• Are you ready to pay for the cost of repairs and maintenance (and your loan)?
A sophisticated piece of equipment requires money to maintain and repair. You can't just go to the local hardware store to get all the parts you need.
• Do you have strong management skills?
As one of our successful project collaborators, Doug Kastenschmidt, said: "Management makes milk. Robots only harvest it!"
Mark your calendars for the 2015 Precision Dairy Conference and Expo, June 24-25, 2015. Visit www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/dairy/precision-dairy/