"Efficiency through innovation." That has been the motto at Mason Dixon Farms, Gettysburg, Pa., for eight generations. And that drive for efficiency is what led this large family farm to give robotic milking systems a try.
Last week, the Waybright family and DeLaval invited members of the ag press to come experience the use of voluntary milking in a large herd. Working with experts from DeLaval, the Waybrights designed a free-stall barn with 500 stalls and one-way traffic flow to route cows through the 10 VMS units. Cows first entered the barn in November 2005. Currently 497 cows are being milked 3X.
Here's what the Waybrights have learned so far:
- Both the cows and the VMS units require initial training. During the first milking for each cow, the VMS unit learns the teat placement and any other pertinent information for that animal. The computer then stores this information and recognizes the cow (by her transponder) the next time she walks into a VMS. The equipment preps her udder for milking and applies a milking unit without error.
- By the second milking, more than half the cows go and actively seek out the VMS system for milking. Generally, all cows catch onto the new system within seven days.
- Second-plus lactation animals seem to learn the system the fastest.
- The VMS system stores each cow's milk in a receiver located stall side. During milking, the milk is tested for any abnormalities, such as blood, or mastitic milk. If any abnormalities are detected, the milk is diverted from the tank. If the milk is normal, the VMS pushes that milk from the receiver onto a series of underground pipes where it is quick-chilled to 34 degrees F and put into a waiting milk tanker.
- Cows do all things individually now, and that has necessitated a change in management philosophy. Since cows are housed in the same barn as the VMS stations, managers no longer have to worry about moving cows to a parlor from free-stall barns. The VMS system sends information about each milking to the herd-management software used at the dairy, and each morning the herdsman looks for any cows that may be overdue for milking. He is then able to give those cows individual attention.
- So far, milk production, somatic cell count and plate counts for the cows milked in VMS stations have been comparable to the cows that are still milked in a conventional milking parlor.
- Data show that cows in the VMS group produce, on average, 90 pounds of milk per cow per day, average three milkings per day, with a somatic cell count that ranges from 150,000 to 190,000.
- Labor savings is currently about 25 to 30 manhours per day.
Labor savings is key
"We looked at new parlors, too," says Doyle Waybright. "And while we would have gained some labor efficiency by upgrading to a new conventional parlor, it wasn't a big enough leap for us." The labor savings would have been a reduction of one, maybe two full-time milker positions.
Labor is hard to find in this area. In fact, it's a constant struggle. "So, we started looking at VMS as a way for the ninth generation to go forward in the business," he explains. "We wanted farming, dairying to be a viable occupation for our children to choose as a career and we think that by adopting VMS and reducing overall labor needs, we can do that."
In addition, by adopting VMS, the dairy hopes to increase cow comfort, decrease cow stress and thereby increase immune response/cow health, and increase cow longevity and productivity.
Long term, the dairy is looking at installing 40 total VMS units to milk the entire herd. But first, the Waybrights plan to do a bit more study and a thorough economic analysis before they go forward.
Five years from now, this system will look different. "We constantly look for ways to improve and we plan to challenge DeLaval to continually improve right along with us," says Doyle Waybright.
To view photos from the event, follow this link.
If you would like to learn more about the DeLaval Voluntary Milking System, go to: http://www.delaval.com/Products/Automatic-Milking-Robotic-milking/DeLaval_VMS/default.htm
Or, contact Tony Brazda, solutions manager VMS, at (613) 329-0244. E-mail is: