Archive for Robotic Milking

Robots lend a helping hand on the farm

Robots can take up the early morning and afternoon milking duties and free up the farmer to complete other important jobs on the farm, writes Jamie Gray.

Proponents of the latest thing in dairy – robotics – emphasise the animal welfare benefits the machines can bring.

The labour cost savings are not big, but in some circumstances, improved production can come from going high tech.

Another attraction is that it can free the farmer up to do other things that can be beneficial, such as pasture management.

Then there are the lifestyle advantages. It means not having to get up at an ungodly hour to milk the cows and in the afternoon, attendance at school sports days can become a reality.

But Grant Vickers, DeLaval NZ’s robotics expert, says the biggest selling point is that cows like it. Or, as one of his clients put it: “It allows the cows to take over the farm.”

Robots have been in cowsheds since the 1990s. Vickers estimates they have been installed in two or three dozen sheds around the country.

The proportion of robotic use is quite high in the established dairy producing countries of Europe, and Vickers expects perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of farms will be using them in New Zealand over the next 10 to 15 years.

Vickers, a former farmer, says there is a huge lifestyle advantage for the farmers but the biggest selling point is the improved animal welfare.

“This type of farming is much kinder on cows. We take the stress right off them and we are seeing indications of improved longevity of the cattle,” he says.

“The robots will do what they say they do on the packet. They will perform well and will milk cows to a higher standard than humans do.”

Under a voluntary system, the cows are not left standing on concrete for hours at a time waiting to be milked.

“They are not bullied and pushed around by other animals, and they are not driven up and down by farm hands on motorcycles.

“They travel at their own pace and choose when they want to be milked,” Vickers says.

Production can improve with robotics, but he says that’s not the main selling point.

“The people we talk to are generally the top-end farmers – who are doing a good job already with the way they feed their cows and milk them, so we can’t really promise them any production increases,” he says.

“However, where we can get production increases is among those farmers who might not be at the top end.

“What tends to happen is that farmers who adopt robotics learn how to manage grass and feeding better. Those guys are going to get an increase in production,” says Vickers.

There are systems in place already that will weigh the animal, check out its milk quality, assess its feed requirement and its overall health, but Vickers says robotics can take that kind of data collection to a new level.

The latest technology from DeLaval includes a somatic cell counter. In dairying, the somatic cell count is an indicator of the quality of milk, and whether it contains harmful bacteria. It also provides information on the levels of mastitis in a herd.

Vickers says robots, complete with cameras that monitor a cow’s overall condition, can also provide the farmer with a deeper level of knowledge.

Farms that use robots tend to be set up in such a way that the cows can be milked up to three times a day – or once every eight hours – with each milking timed as they move past the cow shed to a new paddock.

 David Johnstone says by going robotic there were savings in terms of improved animal health.
Vickers tends to describe it as “voluntary milking” as opposed to milking by robots, because it is the cows themselves who decide when they will be milked. It’s not necessary to have a human in the shed while the process is going on.

He says bullying in a cow herd is a very real problem, and robots can help alleviate that.

“Bullying is a huge cost to the industry because a stressed animal can be difficult to calve again.

“If we take away the bullying and let the heifer operate around the farm at her own pace, the chances of getting her in calf early in the first mating are a lot better,” Vickers says.

The more leisurely approach means cows are not pushed through races en masse, and that can reduce the level of lameness.

Vickers says robots can be used on any scale – he knows of one farmer who milks just 60 cows with one robot. But he says the optimum size tends to be the 200 to 400-cow farm typical in Taranaki and the Waikato because they are the types of properties that tend to be the easiest to convert to a voluntary grazing system.

Vickers says labour cost savings arising from robots are a bit of a myth.

“But there is a huge lifestyle advantage, in that you are not committed to going to the shed at 4.30am for three hours, and again at 3pm for another three hours.

“You have work to do at the shed, but you can do it at times that suit yourself,” he says.

“The input that is needed in a voluntary grazing farm is in management, rather than the hands-on labour that you get in with a conventional dairy shed.”

Vickers says robotics can help farming families with their succession plans, as sons and daughters are more likely to return to the farm when it represents less of a manual undertaking.

In addition, the younger farmers are more likely to assimilate the extra data that a high-tech farm generates.

Vickers says the days of big expansion in dairy, with high numbers of sheep farms converting to dairy, are numbered.

These days dairy farming is more likely to be focused on the improvements that can be made within the farm gate.

“We want do better with what we have got,” he says.

Southland farmer David Johnstone, who farms near Winton, insists the few hours of extra sleep is not the main reason he went robotic.

Though the robots help to promote a better work-life balance, the main benefit is that it frees up time to further improve the farm’s performance.

Johnstone’s four robots take care of the whole milking process, from teat cleaning to attaching cups to the animal.

While the cow is being milked, its health is being evaluated and the appropriate amount of supplementary feed is dispensed before she leaves the shed.

It’s all voluntary. Cows mosey on in when they feel like it, and leave when they want to.
Johnstone says the herd seems to be happier than a typical herd on a conventional farm.

He says the process generates vast amounts of data. The technology details how much milk they have, the time they came into the shed to milk, the amount of feed they were given, their weight, data around milk composition, their preferred robot, and whether they are in heat. The property has 320 cows, available for milking, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Johnstone, an early adopter of the technology, bought the farm three years ago and installed the latest gear soon after. His 100ha farm was converted from sheep to dairy nine years ago, and was one of the first in NZ to use robotics.

He says there is no “huge” economic benefit from going robotic but but there are savings in terms of improved animal health.

“It’s not really a big labour-saver. You end up doing other things that can fine-tune your performance.”

The farm has its own support blocks and is quite self-contained. Silage is made on the property, so there is a higher workload in that respect.

Johnstone says there are slightly higher maintenance costs, plus the higher capital costs.

But the technology is becoming more popular with older farmers who want to cut back on the job’s physical demands.

“We all want better quality time and a better work-life balance,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, but for us it fits in with what we want to do.”


Source: NZ Herald

Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms chooses DeLaval VMS™ robots for new visitor experience

Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, one of the biggest dairy operations in America, announced its intention to expand from conventional milking systems by signing an agreement for 12 DeLaval voluntary milking system VMS™. The robots are for Prairie’s Edge Dairy Farms llc, one of the nine partnerships that comprise Fair Oaks AG tourism experience, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually.

This move further supports a recent shift in the business plans of large-scale milk producers exploring robotics as a viable solution for addressing issues like animal welfare, milk quality, production and labor.

The Fair Oaks Farms dairy attraction is represented by nine families milking 36,000 cows. Mike and Sue McCloskey, well-known visionaries of progressive and sustainable dairy farming, are one of these nine families. “These DeLaval robotic solutions are unbelievably productive and efficient,” said Mike McCloskey. “On top of that, the level of cow comfort that robotic milking brings is very attractive.”

“All of these things are coming together at the right time. It’s pretty exciting,” he continued. “The DeLaval team has gone above and beyond by assisting with the design process and implementation, helping our people – and eventually our cows – approach this new way of farming. The depth of knowledge DeLaval shows from a milk quality point-of-view and their understanding of milk’s physiology is fascinating.”

McCloskey and DeLaval, including President & CEO Joakim Rosengren, at the contract signing.

The decision to add on to Fair Oaks Farms’ rotary-based milking systems with an automated one is rooted in the Grass to Glass® ethos of fairlife™ milk, a nutrient-dense, lactose-free beverage the McCloskeys co-created with their Select Milk Producer partners. Fair Oaks Farms operates as a closed-loop system where they grow their own feed, never mix milk from other dairies, and process and bottle the milk at their dairy cooperative’s facilities. Twelve VMS™ will help harvest enough milk to fill one tanker truck a day, helping to control milk quality and traceability.

“We are very pleased to be a part of Fair Oaks Farms’ journey in going robotic. At DeLaval we are committed to helping our customers remain progressive and future-oriented, and we feel that robotic milking matched with outstanding cow comfort and excellent milk quality are the prerequisites for this,” said Fernando Cuccoli, DeLaval Vice President, Market Area North America.

Start-up of Fair Oaks Farms’ new robotic milking facility is planned for December 2017 and will serve 780 cows.

DeLaval VMS™
DeLaval VMS™ (voluntary milking system) allows cows to be milked automatically, whenever they like, in a calm, quiet and stress-free environment.

It identifies the cow as it enters the system and feed is dispensed before the teats are cleaned and prepared, and milking begins. Dual lasers on the robotic arm enable quick, precise teat detection.

When milking is complete, both the animal’s teats and the system itself are cleaned, ensuring the highest standards of hygiene are maintained at all times.

The world’s largest automated milking operation with 64 DeLaval VMS™ came on-line at the end of last year in Chile, and another large robotic facility in Michigan with 24 DeLaval VMS™ will start milking later this year.


Are Robotic Milking Machines Worth the Expense?

There is no question that Robotic Milking Machines seem to be the hottest thing on the market. With over 35,000 robotic milking systems (RMS) operational on dairy farms around the world, it more than just a fad, it is an epidemic.   It seems almost daily you hear about another operation deciding to switch to Robots.  With many producers citing the improved lifestyle and the ability to expand or even stay in business without having to hire more labor.  And it’s not just the old dairy farmers with kids who don’t want to work hard, more and more it seems like even large dairies are considering the change.  But the Bullvine asks “At what cost?”. Are these farmers generating greater income and because of better results on the bottom line that they can justify the expense? With that in mind, we decided to look at the economics of investing in robotic milking and determine if these farmers are lazy or are they smart business people.

Labor is the second largest expense on the dairy farm. Considering the actual cost of hired labor and when an appropriate value for unpaid family help is included, investing in labor-saving automation may be the best way to improve your bottom line.

Are you cheap or wise?

First, let’s get one thing clear, most producers do not install robots because it is the lowest cost option for harvesting milk. Historically, for a 120-cow dairy, the total cost per cwt of milk of a robotic milking system was similar to a new modern parlor.

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

But how many decisions on the average dairy farm are made to be at the lowest cost?  Most of us decide not to live in the cheapest house or drive the cheapest car because we want a nicer lifestyle. But at the rate at which labor expenses are increasing, especially when the appropriate value for unpaid family help is included, not to mention the scarcity of labor, combined with the increased performance that is tied to the improved management, more and more Robots are beginning to make economic sense.

While coming up with hard numbers, which are applicable are specific to each situation, is almost impossible, one thing is clear is that robotic milking becomes more affordable every year as the cost of labor increases and the availability of labor decreases.  There is no question that robotic milking saves labor, and based on surveys done by the Progressive Dairy Operators group (PDO), dairy farm labor is going up in cost. In 2004 the average wage for dairy farm workers described as “milkers” was $12.65 per hour. By 2004 this had gone up 7% to $13.55. Then in 2010 117 herds reported an average wage of $14.21 per hour for milkers, up 5% again plus an additional $0.28 in non-monetary benefits. So in 6 years, the benefit of owning a robotic milking system has increased by roughly 12%. (Read more:  Robotic milking gets more affordable every year by Jack Rodenberg)

So how do you determine the ROI of an RMS?

To determine the real return of investing in a Robotic Milking System, you need to look at milk production per cow, milk produced per robot per day, labor savings, the length of useful life of the system. 

The main cost of robotic milking is the capital invested in the technology. From 2004-2010 the price for a new robot went from  $250,000 to about $220,000.  That is a 15% decrease in the cost while labor costs have typical gone up 12%.  That is a 27% swing in a six-year period.  And in the last six years, prices for a robot to milk 50-70 cows is about $150,000 to $200,000, another 20 decrease. In that same time, the cost of wages paid to livestock workers per USDA has increased 19%.  Researchers have reported up to 29% savings with RMS.

Another aspect that may be even more important, than the increased cost of labor for dairy farm workers, is the decreased availability.  A 2014 survey indicated that 51% of all farm labor was immigrant labor (Adcock et al., 2015). The future availability of immigrant workers may be reduced if less foreign workers choose to work on farms or if tighter immigration laws are passed in the US as the Trump administration seems to be leaning towards. And if Trump is successful at re-igniting the US economy revs up with reductions in regulations or the anticipation of that, the demand for labor is only going to increase in all industry, causes an even greater shortage of farm laborers.   This will force producers to either use new workers who are very inexperienced yet demand a high wage or use an aging workforce that is not as productive as it once was.  This already causing producers of all sizes to determine if they should either automate milking and eliminate task oriented positions, or increase productivity efficiencies to 180-200 cows per man with such technologies as teat spray robots in large rotaries.   

So does an RMS make economic sense for your operation?

To answer this question, the University of Minnesota developed a web application to compare the profitability of robots and parlors: This tool was used to compare the economics of RMS and parlor systems on farms with 120, 240 and 1,500 lactating cows over a 20-year payback time. Milking labor costs were set at $16/hr with a milk price of $17/cwt. They assumed milk production would increase 5 lb/day per cow with RMS compared to milking 2X and decrease 2 lb/day compared to 3X milking. The per cow barn investment is higher for the RMS, reflecting the additional cost to install labor savings features typical in RMS barns. We inflated labor costs at 1, 2, or 3% annually. Net annual impact refers to the net present value of projected differences in RMS cash flows converted to an annuity.

The 120 and 240 cow RMS systems had a higher net annual impact compared to a double 8-parlor system (Figure 1). Labor cost inflation and milk production per cow had a large impact on profit. For each pound change in daily production per cow, the net annual impact changed by $931.

The 1,500-cow parlor system was more profitable than RMS. A 1% annual wage inflation resulted in a $162,672 (3X milking) and $51,177 (2X milking) more profit for the parlor. The difference was $130,570 (3X milking) and $32,395 (2X milking) at 3% wage inflation. Using similar milk production and 3% wage inflation the parlor had $80,672 higher annual impact.

The primary reason for the differences in profit is the more intensive use of the milking system. The RMS assumed full utilization at 60 cows per robot across all herd sizes. The parlor was only being used four hours per day with the 120-cow system. In the 240-cow simulations, the parlor was being used 8 and 12 hr/day in the 2X and 3X respectively. For the 1,500-cow herd, both the robot and parlor were at near maximum utilization.

Milk production and labor assumptions between the systems significantly affect the profitability projections. More research is needed to understand the economics of how these systems perform with different herd sizes and management practices.

The University of Minnesota also determines just what are the breakeven rates for the Robotic system.

  • Breakeven labor rate.
    Since the 1,500-cow RMS was less profitable than the parlor system at $16/hr labor, they determined the breakeven labor rate at which the two systems would have similar annual incomes. At the wage inflation rate of 1% and a 2 lbs. lower milk production with the RMS, the breakeven labor rate is $32.30/hr. If similar milk production levels are assumed with a 3% annual wage inflation, the breakeven wage rate drops to $22.91/hr.
  • Breakeven milk production
    The University of Minnesota also examined how increased milk production per cow in RMS would affect the profit comparison (Figure 2). If the robot system achieves 3 lbs /cow per day higher milk production than the parlor with 3% annual wage inflation, the annual income is only $3256 higher for the parlor for the 1,500 cow herd. At 5 lbs./day more milk, the RMS is more profitable at all wage inflation rates. Current research indicates that RMS do not achieve milk production as high as 3X milking, but as RMS management and facility design improve, this may change. Another potential advantage is that cows in RMS can be managed and milked in stable groups within the pens. Cows have access to resources (feed, water, beds, and milking) at all times. More precise feeding management can potentially increase milk per cow.

Figure 2. Net annual impact of a 1,500-cow dairy with 25 robots compared to a double-24 parlor milking 3X at different increases in daily milk production and wage inflation rates

Maximizing the Robotic Impact

Maximizing daily milk per robot is important to maximize profit. In a four-robot system using 2% annual wage inflation and a 20-year time horizon, net annual income increases approximately $4,100 for every 500 lbs. increase in daily milk per robot. Currently, some US farms are consistently harvesting more than 6,000 lbs. of milk per robot daily. This is achieved by a combination of high daily milk per cow and a high number of cows per robot (often over 60). The most important factors to achieve this are:

  1. Milking permission settings and strategies that get the correct cows milked at the correct times
  2. Reduced box time per cow
  3. RMS in top working condition

Retrofit vs. New Barn

One question many producers must consider is it better to retrofit your current barn or build a new one?  The University of Minnesota also examined how the economic life, labor efficiency, and milk production change affects the profitability of RMS. They developed two scenarios using an 180-cow dairy: RMS replacing a parlor and retrofitted in an existing freestall barn and an RMS in combination with a new high technology freestall barn.  Here is what they found:

  • Robot retrofit
    For the retrofit scenario, they assumed that there was no remaining debt with the previous The increases in costs with the robots were payments for the three robots ($63,000) for ten years, higher insurance ($2,700) and higher maintenance ($9,000/robot per year). They examined profitability using milking labor of 45, 60 and 75 minutes per robot. They also varied daily milk per cow using a 2 lb decrease, no change, and 2 lb increase compared to the previous system. Their survey of producers indicated that well designed (automatic manure removal and split entry pens), well managed free flow barns average about 45 minutes of daily milking like labor per robot. In this scenario, if producers can get 2 lb/day more milk and robots last longer than ten years, the RMS system is more profitable than the parlor system. If there is no change in milk production, robots must last 13 (with 45 minutes of daily labor per robot) to 17 (with 75 minutes of daily labor per robot) years to break even. If milk production decreases 2 lb in the RMS system, it is never as profitable as the previous parlor system.
  • Robot with a New Barn
    To achieve the maximum benefit of robots, it is preferable to design them into a new, high technology, low labor requirement facility. This includes various upgrades, such as wider more frequent crossovers, automated manure removal, and automated feed pushers. The projected new facility resulted in annual payments of about $101,000 over 20 years for the 180-cow farm. A 10 lb/ day increase in milk production along with the anticipated labor savings is required before robots are consistently more profitable than the previous parlor system. A key factor is the benefit of a Cow Comfort Upgrade and its effect on performance with robotics. When cow comfort is done right (sand is the gold standard) 60% of the milk increase in robotics can be attributed to the updated free stall barn. These things matter. The key benefit of individual robots is the elimination of the holding pen and the extra hours per day that the cow gets to eat, lay down, and chew her cud.

There are Economic tools available to do the deep dive and evaluate the many factors that affect performance and economics in a robotic milking facility. Contact your Robotic Specialist to sit down and go over the numbers and conditions specific to your dairy. Also, talk to your local dealer, banker, nutritionist, veterinarian, and genetics supplier. It takes a team working together to cover all the bases and give you the honest feedback to understand your operations strengths and weakness. 0ver 40,000 robots milk over 2.2 million cows worldwide and robots put in 16 years ago, are still operating today. It may be new to you, but it is not new to the industry. My Grandfather milked cows by hand, and 90 years later we are milking cows with no hands….amazing progress with more to come.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While many producers look at income over feed to determine how their operation is doing.  I argue that given the fact that labor is your actual greatest non-feed expense on a dairy farm, and that it is also the resource that is typically in the shortest supply, we should be looking at income per full-time labor unit. When you look at your operation, and if there is the capital required to invest in an RMS unit, there is not question that Robotic Milking Systems make perfect sense for most dairy operations under 1,000 milking cows.  There is no doubt there will always be demand for high-quality people both immigrant and citizens. WE NEED COW PEOPLE!! Good people will always have a place in this industry, and they will have great value.   The best robot barn in the world with poor management is a failure in the making. As someone recently said “Management Makes Milk” and “Good People make Managers Look Good.” There are more career opportunities in dairy than ever before, and those that can operate robotic facilities and use technology will have a very bright future. Especially with rising labor rates and less supply, there are also scenarios where a robotic milking system makes sense even for larger operations.  Treat your cows with care, treat your employees with respect and develop them and the results can be predictable and positive.

Watch TRANSITIONING INTO THE ROBOTIC WORLD An increase in labour productivity is desired to ensure a healthy dairy business.  Achieving more litres of milk per worker in an animal‑friendly way is possible with a robotic milking system.  But you can not just rush out and buy a robotic milking system.  There are many factors that you need to consider. In this video the topic of transitioning into the robotic world and its influences on cow management will be covered. What things need to be considered? How do we ensure we have the most successful adaptation of the technology to optimize cow health and performance? Watch this video for a look into how robotics can improve the way we manage our cows. 

Listen to what other producers have to say: Top Producer Panel – Robotics conference. Join seven of the top DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America as they share and build knowledge around the DeLaval integrated robotic solution and best practices for robotic milking. 


The largest robotic dairy farm in the United States will go online in Michigan in 2017

DeLaval International, a large Swedish producer of dairy and other farming equipment, is installing 24 robotic voluntary—meaning the cows approach the stations on their own—milking machines at TDI Farms LLC of Westphalia that will be able to milk 1,500 cows. The new system will be operational sometime next year (no firm date has been set yet), according to Muhieddine Labban, solution manager of automatic milking systems at DeLaval.

The farm is owned by the Trierweiler family. They decided to transition to a robotic milking system after seeing improved longevity and lower cull rates of cows in dairy farms using these systems.

“For the last few years, my family has been discussing the farm’s next steps. Ultimately, the conversations kept coming back to robotics as we felt it was the best fit,” said Bryant Trierweiler, one of the owners, in a press statement.

Here’s how the Voluntary Milking System machine works: the cows are free to come to the machine to be milked as they please, drawn by the feed that is dispensed during milking. Because the animals are creatures of habit, they learn this routine within a few days, says Labban in an email. The system cleans, pre-milks, dries and stimulates each teat individually using water, compressed air and a vacuum. After this preparation stage, the cows are milked via a robotic attachment that scans their underside to detect where the teats are located and checks the milk flow before releasing the suction cup at the end of the milking session.


A room full of Voluntary Milking Systems. Image courtesy of DeLaval.

According to DeLaval, the VMS is better for cows than traditional milking systems since it has an open structure that allows the cow to see her surroundings and to stand in a comfortable position without human management, which can be stressful for the animals. The VMS also monitors udder health and can detect potentially life-threatening mammary gland infections.

Now to the question that always comes up when we talk robots: what about the farm workers who previously did the milking? The Trierweilers say they plan to develop their employees’ skills in other directions in the company. “We have a great core of employees and prefer to develop their talents as opposed to adding more labor,” said Bryant Treirweiler.

“Robotic milking technology allows for a better trained and more flexible workforce,” —Muhieddine Labban

Labban says the “human element remains a critical factor” and that without a “motivated, competent and committed workforce, it’s impossible to build a successful dairy business.” Robotic milking technology allows for a better trained and more flexible workforce, he says.

“Workers can now make better use of their time by handling chores and tasks that are critical to a well-managed dairy operation. The VMS increases efficiency, providing the dairy producer with the opportunity to hire fewer, but higher-caliber trained and qualified people,” he tells Modern Farmer in an email.

Labban wouldn’t give specifics on the cost of the VMS system, only saying that the price is “dependent on several factors.”

DeLaval is also involved in the creation in one of the largest robotic milking facilities in the world, which is being constructed in Los Angeles, Chile. El Fundo Risquillo farm will have a total of 64  machines milking 4,500 cows, according to DeLaval. It’s slated to be on line early next year.

Source: Modern Farmer

Want MORE Milk? Put More Focus on Frequency!

Dairy headlines, scientific data and discussions over the farm fence are piling up data that says the move to robotic milking sees ever higher levels of uptake among dairy operations.  The focus has moved beyond the simple analysis of pros and cons to finding more data on ways to get the most milk production per robot. The simple conclusion is that everything that impacts the cow — before, during and after visits to the robot — could affect her milk production. As complicated as that sounds, it is simply a question of focus.

“Use Both First Hand Experience and Second Hand Information”

There are many ways to learn how others get more milk from their robots.  Robotic milker suppliers can point you to their successful clients.  They will dazzle you with positives. An internet search will give you many more names to consider and perhaps even reach out to. Be prepared to learn that some of these dairy operations have had remarkable accomplishments. No one will direct you to someone who is struggling with an automated milking system.  Nevertheless, you should seek out things that have been proven, how problems have been corrected and, most of all, how to get more production. Regardless of our sources of information, it’s up to you to do your due diligence.

“We Hear About LESS Labor and MORE Milk. Are the Claims True?”

The attraction to robotic milking pulls dairy operations toward making the change with the promise of decreased labor and increased milk production.  These claims are backed up by the majority of research which shows that installing robots and increasing milking frequency from 2 times per day to 2.5 or 3.0 times on average which results in 6 to 10 pounds more milk per cow per day. You will find that any claim beyond that is impacted by factors not directly robot related such as cow comfort, improved reproduction, and superior management. The facts regarding less total labor aren’t as dramatic.  It is different. Start times may be later, and there is definitely  more flexibility. But, to have the best management, you have to be on call at all times.  Finding a positive way through this learning curve is the first challenge faced by both the human and the bovine teams.

“Scientific Studies Draw Conclusions That You Can Act Upon”

We should always acknowledge that we could be taking results out of context.  Furthermore, we tend to judge what we learn based on our experience, and those experiences create bias.  All we can do is make decisions based on the best information available. There are several Canadian studies and also reports from the University of Minnesota and some out of the Netherlands as well.  These are just a few samples of what is available online. They have a lot of information, and they report what strategies have the biggest impact on milk production. Here are six that rise to the top of the lists.


  1. Come again!  And Again! Frequency wins!
    You hear it from every source.  One of the main factors impacting robot milk production is the frequency of visits.  If cows could read, we would post signs encouraging them to “Visit the Robot!  Don’t Stay Long!  Come back often! “It’s simple. If you want more milk, you have to have more frequent milking times. This begs the next questions, “How do you get cows to voluntarily come to the robot more often?” How often is often enough? What is the best? Most experts and studies suggest that the goal should be to average 2.7 to 3 milkings per cow per day.  When dairy operations fail to meet this benchmark, they make it a priority to review robot efficiency, nutrition programming, and pre-and-post robotic farm environment setup.
  2. “Effective Management Makes More Milk”
    Robots require a high level of management to be successful.  You may work less (than in parlor setups), but you must manage more! When you have the cows coming to the robots frequently, you have to stay on top of every detail that can impact the success of those visits.  
    At herd level: Monitor visits per day. Target average milking speeds. Provide sand or water beds for cow comfort. Remove hair from udders and trim tails. These and some tasks, such as treating cows, can take more time than in a parlor setup.
    Around the Barn: Slatted floors, robotic scraping and keeping up with equipment maintenance have proven to increase milk production.
    Genetic Selection: Not all cows are well suited for robotic milking. Sire selection and breeding for cows with easier attachment rates and improved milking speed present new challenges. 
    In the Office: Effective dairy managers take responsibility for the success of the dairy, and a large part of that is effectively managing all the incoming data captured by robotic systems.
  3. “Feed is the MAGNET That Pulls in More Visits!” 
    The single biggest factor affecting voluntary visits is the feed that is fed at the robot.  Typically, cows receive a pelleted feed at the robot: some farms feed ground corn or other grains. If only we could learn from fast food drive through restaurants, we would have the cows lining up at all hours of the day. Since we don’t gain from feeding extra large unnecessary portions that lead to overweight, we will have to settle for the idea of attracting our cow-customers to the robot.
    In contrast to the “junk” food that some humans crave, the feed offered at the robot must be of consistent high quality and palatability or cows will be discouraged from visiting the robot and thereby decrease the number of milkings per cow per day. Feed offered should complement other feeds being fed to the cows at the feed bunk.  It isn’t necessary to feed a full ration at either place.  Ideally, the feedbunk provides a partial mixed ration formulated at a lower energy content. The balance of the energy needs are provided at the robot.  Pellet quality, ingredients, quantity and palatability all play a role in getting the cows to voluntarily return to the robot and, thereby, they help increase (or decrease) milk production.
  4. “Provide More Robot Availability. Avoid Lineups and Crowding”
    Since there isn’t a robot for every cow, any time that there is blocked access to a robot it negatively affects milking efficiency. Blockage may be caused by cows congregating around the entrance either before or after milking. Proper design of robotic milking facilities can prevent some of these blocking events from occurring. If the area in front of the robot is small, locate water sources and cow brushes away from the entrance to the robot so as not to encourage cows to congregate in the area.
    A higher stocking density (cows per robot) can also result in fewer milkings per cow.  A target of 60 cows per robot is typically recommended.  In the study, dairy farms averaged 55 cows per robot. A survey of robotic miking dairy farms in Pennsylvania found an average of 56 cows per robot with a range of 47 to 64 cows per robot.  In general, farms in the Pennsylvania study with fewer cows per robot had greater milking’s per cow per day and greater milk production per cow. The conclusion:  Crowding costs cash!
  5. “Robot Access Means No Obstacles, More Space and Good Footing”
    Cow traffic to and from the robot is a large part of robot success. Easy access to the robot is a significant factor in the frequency of visits per cow per day. Obstacles interfering in the path to the robot as well as difficult entryways can deter cows from milking. Cows also need to have adequate space between the robot and surrounding areas. If holding pens or the area in front of the robot are too small, cows will be discouraged from entering.
    Access to the robot can also be encouraged through proper care and management of your herd’s feet and legs. Cows need to have good locomotion and sound hooves to be comfortable walking back and forth to the robot. Scheduling regular hoof trimmings and providing access to footbaths can prevent issues from developing.
  6. “Yes! More Milking Speed Counts!” 
    You can’t deal effectively with getting cows into and out of the robot, without giving consideration to the actual speed of getting the milk. Slow milking time reduces cow throughput and decreases the amount of milkings achieved each day. Many of the top producing robotics herds measure milk flow as compared to milkings per cow per day. From entry to exit, the milking process should take, on average, seven to eight minutes per cow. It’s recommended that herds should strive for less than seven minutes and start to investigate potential issues when milking length exceeds eight minutes. The actual milking unit attachment can also influence time taken per cow in the robot. Milking units that locate the teats quickly and efficiently will reduce the time per cow spent in the robot, freeing up extra available time for other cows. The more time the robots actually spend with cows who are putting out maximum flow will result in greater production than just counting the number of cows per hour or visits per day.  That is why many top herds allow their top producers to visit more frequently while cows that are later in lactation or lower producers allowed fewer visits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Robotic dairy operations continually strive to improve efficiency and increase production. The starting point for more milk is more frequency. Work with your whole dairy team – nutrition, environment, herd health and staff – to get their best input on ways to make sure you are doing everything possible to attract cows to visit the robots more often. When you effectively focus on getting more robot visits per cow, you will automatically produce more milk!



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Top Producer Panel – Robotics conference

Join seven of the top DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America as they share and build knowledge around the DeLaval integrated robotic solution and best practices for robotic milking.

Calf to CowSignals workshop – Robotics conference

Join Dr. Nico Vreeburg from Vetvice Barn Design as he discusses Calf to CowSignals. Rearing calves into heifers is a major investment in terms of money and labour. Your dual aims are to turn your heifer into a strong, productive dairy cow and to use labour, housing and feed efficiently. If you achieve these aims, you’ll cut the costs of rearing per kilogram of milk. From calf to heifer covers the basics of successful rearing, shows you how to control risks and helps you to structure your work so that each calf automatically receives the best treatment. From calf to heifer is full of sensible tips on how to improve the rearing of calves and yearlings.

About the Presenter

Dr. Nico Vreeburg D.V.M. qualified in 1994 from Utrecht University, Netherlands. From 1994 to 2008 he worked as a private practitioner in veterinary practice De Overlaet, in Oss (NL). This practice focuses on four-legged farm animals and has dedicated itself to preventive herd health management and animal production support, with a team of 12 fulltime veterinarians. In 1998 Nico became a partner. During the following years he more and more dedicated his professional time to dairy farm support and joined the team of Vetvice, as trainer/consultant. Within Vetvice, he participated in the development of the CowSignals® concept and co-founded Vetvice Barn Design. On January 1, 2009, Nico left De Overlaet to join the Vetvice Group as a partner.

At this moment, Nico works works fulltime within the Vetvice Group as a trainer/consultant on barn design, dairy farm management and cow management. Vetvice Barn Design is a leading consultancy on designing dairy barns for cow wellness, labor efficiency and sustainable milk production. Vetvice Future Farming consults and trains dairy farm staff on save and efficient working procedures. Vetvice CowSignals Company trains dairymen and their advisors worldwide, in the areas of CowSignals and preventive management. Vetvice is active in over 30 countries with a team of 6 veterinarians, 2 agricultural engineers and 1 office manager.



Barn Design: Interaction of robotic housing systems and health – Dr. Ken Nordlund – Robotics conference #VMSPRO2016

Join Dr. Ken Nordlund from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as he discusses the four key topics: Calf Barns Designed for Calf Health; Ventilation Issues in Cow Milking Facilities; Freestall design and lameness; and Key factors for transition cow health.  This informative session will open your eyes to many of the problem areas on your dairy.

About The Presenter

DELAVAL - VMS2016-01-25Dr. Ken Nordlund is a clinical professor in the Food Animal Production Medicine group in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota in 1977 and was a private practitioner and practice owner in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, from 1977 to 1989. Ken is a board-certi ed dairy specialist in the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. In 1989, he joined the University of Wisconsin and helped to found the Food Animal Production Medicine program. His research interests include dairy record systems and the development of the Transition Cow IndexTM, as well as interactions between dairy cattle housing and health.

Improving Feed Access and Consumption on Robotic Dairies – Dr. Trevor DeVries – Robotics conference #VMSPRO2016

Join Dr. Trevor DeVries from the University of Guelph as he discusses the importance of making sure cows can get to feed they need when they want it.  During this informative presentation Dr. DeVries covers how to ensure feed is delivered consistently and  is consumed as delivered and in a healthy manner.  Dr. DeVries shares how to keep fresh feed in front of cows, by feeding multiple times per day and what the optimum push up feed frequently is as well as how to give cows the optimum amount of space to eat.

About The Presenter

DELAVAL - VMS2016-02-39Dr. Trevor DeVries is a Canada Research Chair in Dairy Cattle Behavior and Welfare and an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph. Trevor received his B.Sc. in Agriculture from The University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2001. Immediately following he began graduate studies at UBC, focusing his research on dairy cow feeding behavior. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2006, he worked for one year as a post-doctoral researcher at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, focusing his research on ruminant nutrition. In 2007 he was appointed as faculty with the University of Guelph. In his current position Trevor is involved in research and teaching in the areas of dairy cattle nutrition, management, behavior, and welfare.

Precision Dairy Tools: Explore the potential – Dr Jeff Bewley – Robotics conference #VMSPRO2016

Ever wonder how precision dairy tools could help you take your dairy to the next level?  Then you are going to want to watch Dr. Jeffrey Bewley’s presentation from the 2016 VMS Pro conference in Las Vegas.  During this robotics conference Dr. Bewley presented the scientific research around many of the latest technologies and if they actually work or if they are not worth the headaches.  Dr. Bewley also shared with attendees a great method to help evaluate new technology and if it’s worth the investment for your operation.


About The Presenter

Dr. Jeffrey Bewley is from Rineyville, Kentucky, where he grew up working on his grandfather’s (Hilary Skees) dairy farm. He received a B.S. in Animal Sciences from the University of Kentucky in 1998. In 2000, he completed his M.S. in Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin- Madison under the direction of Dr. Roger Palmer. His PhD work under Dr. Mike Schutz at Purdue University focused on the application and economics of Precision Dairy Farming technologies. Jeffrey’s current teaching program at the University of Kentucky focuses on precision dairy technology implementation, mastitis prevention, cow comfort, lameness prevention, and decision economics.

About The Conference – #VMSPRO2016

Learn about the latest robotic milking, feeding concepts and innovations – from calf to cow. DeLaval lined up some of the best scientists, specialists and DeLaval VMS producers from North America, Europe, Oceania and Latin America to share and build knowledge around our DeLaval integrated robotic solutions.

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