Managing the change to automatic milking
An AMS affects all parts of a farm operation, not just the milking, and it is important to have a realistic picture of what to expect. Only a small proportion of the 10,000 AMS installations worldwide have been unsuccessful to date. Failures are due mostly to unrealistic expectations of the technology and the impact that it will have on farm labour, lifestyle and business.
Many farmers new to AMS assume they will have lots of time in their hands. In reality, there is still plenty to do, however, the focus of physical and management tasks shifts. Instead of focusing on milking time, the main task is now allocation and management of pasture/feed, as feed is the main motivator to encourage the cows to move around the system.
It is important to understand that the whole system relies on the cows’ willingness to move around the farm. Cows can be encouraged to move in a number of ways but the most effective and reliable motivator is food!
Monitoring the milking frequency, milk quality, and yield at the computer will be part of the new routine, and individual cow management will be in focus rather than the whole herd, with daily reports and alerts to indicate which individual cows need special attention.
Realistic expectations start by understanding the key principles for the successful operation of an automatic milking system.
Farmers who are successful at AMS keep the following principles in mind:
Voluntary cow movement – you need infrastructure and management strategies that encourage consistent and reliable cow traffic around the farm.
Accurate pasture allocation – your pasture/feed management is the key to reliable cow movement. Accurate pasture allocation is the tool you use to ensure the predictability of cow traffic. Cows are mostly motivated to move by the hope of accessing more feed.
A distributed milking pattern – this refers to the milking units being used fairly evenly over a 24-hour period. You need to reap the benefit of your investment in milking units by ensuring utilisation rates are optimal.
In challenging practical situations or when you have decisions to make, remember these three principles and what the system needs to achieve overall.
The Challenge of change:
The move to an automatic milking system is a big change for you, your staff and the cows. It helps if you can get a sense of how these changes may impact on your farm. Consider the following issues.
Are your staff interested or threatened by the technology and new ways of doing things?
Do you pride yourself on having a spotless dairy?
Trusting the cows and the machines
Can you and your staff walk away to let cows explore and learn the system and use the milking units?
Coping with technology
How frustrated do you get when technology doesn’t work?
How will you cope being on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
Source: Management guidelines for Pasture-based AMS farms from Future Dairy