In my last column I shared how a Fond du Lac County dairy farm family has made the transition from its old tie-stall barn to new cow housing and the use of robotic milking.
This family opted to build a new freestall barn a year in advance of transitioning over to the implementation of a robotic milking system for the 75-cow herd.
Lessons learned from converting from milking cows in tie stalls, stanchions or, even in a few cases a parlor, to robotic milking are many. This eastern Wisconsin dairy family discovered that the first calf heifers were highly adaptable to being milked by the Lely A-4 robot within four to five days and were completely trained within two weeks.
Aged cows, midway through their current lactation, were slow to accept being milked robotically. However, they adjusted rapidly following calving and beginning their next lactation.
The first year of using the new system was far from being a cake walk but with patience they were able to prevail. Milking staff must remain calm and quiet while herding and assisting cows into the milking stall. The new milking experience must not be associated with any potential fear for the cow.
Cows that most often need to be fetched for milking during the early stages were either in heat or those off their game with some ailment. Computer-generated reports help to inform the operator of several important parameters regarding individual cows, such as milking frequency, supplement consumption while being milked, milk quality, rumination and chewing frequency, as well as indicators regarding a cow’s heat cycle.
Following the first year of robotic milking, less than 7 percent of the milking herd needed to be rounded up one or more times per day for milking. According to family members, cows that were once flighty around humans in the tie-stall barn environment had adapted well to the robot. Employees observed that these animals moved freely between the feeding and resting area to the milking area on their own accord.
However, cows that had to be sought by staff for milking — other than cows in heat or with a health challenge — were often the tame cows that seem to require human interaction to move them to the robot.
Coaxing cows to come to the robot for milking is the key to making robotic milking a successful reality. This Fond du Lac County producer found that cows could be lured to the robot for milking using high moisture shelled corn delivered to the computer-controlled feeding mechanism (a part of the robot milking machine). This producer also provided roasted soybeans through a separate auger flowing into the feeding bowl located in the front of the robot milking station. These two feeds are highly palatable and cows will eagerly come forth to the robot for the “goodies” while getting milked.
After one year of operation, this producer is averaging 2.7 milkings per cow per day using the automated milking machine.
In my next column, I will discuss feeding through the robot, milk quality evaluation and how the robot reports the reproductive status of each cow. Will precision dairy farming be a successful revolution or will it be an expensive experiment?
Greg Booher is a farm business and production management instructor at Lakeshore Technical College working in many counties in eastcentral Wisconsin. Contact him at (920) 960-0551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.