A day in the life of a robotic milking producer

With an Automatic Milking System (AMS) producers can work smarter rather than harder. They might also enjoy a better quality of life with added flexibility in their schedule and activities – a clear advantage of robotic milking over conventional operations. A robot operator decides when to start, stop, continue and go home, making it possible to start later and finish earlier in the day.

Labor efficiency of robotic herds in North American can be as high as 12,000 lbs/man/day. But to achieve this, a producer must be organized and diligent. The success of an AMS operation depends on his or her management style and having the discipline to follow through with daily and weekly routines.

I can’t pretend to tell you that this is absolutely true for every farm and every producer, but instead I can give you an idea of what it’s like to milk with robots and how it will change your workday.

Daily Routines

Feeding

Feeding is the base of all dairy production systems, but here it is the main driver for cow flow. Producers with robots spend approximately two hours a day feeding their herd. This is the operation’s most time-intensive task so an automated feed system could be beneficial. With automated TMR mixing and feed delivery, cows could receive feed at least eight times a day saving producers 1.5 hours of labor per day.

Computer-based herd management

Producers should spend about an hour and a half each day working with their herd management system. It’s important to monitor the following data at least three times a day:

  • AMS key performance indicators
  • Overdue cows (animals with more than 12 hours since last milking)
  • Incomplete cows (animals that milked below a determined threshold in at least one of their quarters during the last milking session)
  • Cows at risk of developing or developed intra-mammary infections
  • Cows with high activity or in heat, and cows with low activity or at risk of being sick

Herd Health

Most herd management systems for robotic operations will identify special needs and attention cows and separate them into a predetermined area. This basic routine can be performed twice a day and take an average time of 1.5 hours.

Grooming Stalls

AMS is all about maximizing the quantity of milkings per station per day. It means lowering time per milking and increasing the time a robot spends milking cows throughout the day. Teat cleanliness can directly affect stall times – the dirtier the teats the longer the robot needs to clean them before attaching the liners to dry and stimulated teats. With AMS, the level of teat cleaning can be adjusted at the herd and individual level. Adding three seconds of cleaning time per teat sounds like very little, but it actually increases the total teat preparation time to 36 seconds/cow/day. In a 240-cow herd this equals an extra 2.4 hours cleaning teats instead of harvesting milk. In terms of efficiency, this is like losing 20 milkings a day.

Investing 1.2 hours per day to groom stalls twice a day is a best practice for maximizing profitability.

Fetching overdue and incomplete cows

Every cow is different and there will always be some animals that are slow, lame or for some unknown reason won’t visit the station as often as needed. At the same time, incomplete milkings must be promptly addressed so they don’t develop into intra-mammary infections. This routine should be done twice a day, and with proper logistics and layouts it shouldn’t take more than an hour a day.

Keep in mind the cow traffic system can also influence the fetch rate. Typically, free flow dairies will have more cows to fetch compared to guided cow traffic operations.

Cleaning the robots and milk room

A producer with robots once told me, “If you take care of the robots, the robots will take care of you.” It was a noble quote as it impacts both robot appearance and performance. Cleaning the camera lens is as critical as keeping everything clean so regulations and standards can be met – an important part of our business.

Training new animals

Remember, cows are our customers when milking with robots. To ensure motivation and performance it is important to develop a consistent training routine for heifers. There are several training protocols (a topic for another article). In an operation with 120 to 240 cows, producers should invest a half an hour a day, at least twice a day.

Changing milk filters

It is important to do this at least three times a day.

Pushing up feed

To motivate regular cow flow and maximize dry matter intake, cows must have access to fresh feed. Pushing up feed is recommended every four hours. When combined with delivering fresh feed twice a day, pushing up feed requires a frequency of four times a day for a total of 18 minutes.

Daily Routines in a Robotic Milking Operation

Activity

Total Hours/Day

Frequency/day

Feeding

2.0

2

Computer-based herd management

1.5

3

Herd Health

1.5

2

Grooming Stalls

1.2

2

Fetching overdue and incomplete cows

1.0

2

Cleaning  the robots and milk room

0.5

1

Training new animals

0.5

2

Changing milk filters

0.5

3

Pushing up feed

0.3

4

Free time and other tasks

15

NA

Total

24

 

Free time and other tasks

If a producer manages his time and activities correctly, he will have the flexibility to do other things. However, dairy farming is and will remain a demanding job, especially considering some additional tasks related and unrelated to the milking herd, such as weekly routines, young stock and crops.

Weekly routines

Bedding

Depending on the bedding system and size of operation, a producer will spend two to four hours a week refreshing the bedding. Logistics are crucial for this activity as it impacts not only labor but cow comfort and cow flow.

General cow movements

Moving cows to different groups or areas takes about one to two hours a week –same as in conventional milking.

Robot and equipment care

Changing liners and some maintenance routines are weekly tasks. It’s also good to develop a scheduled service routine for different components like, for example, the vacuum systems. Regular upkeep will help ensure better robot performance and productivity. Investing just two hours per week can be the difference between average and great.

Vet Visits

These are the same as with conventional milking and take one to two hours per week.

General follow-up and system evaluation

Planning by scenarios is a great advantage, but evaluating and following up is necessary to achieve goals and expectations. I recommend spending one to two hours a week sharing ideas and discussing alternatives with members of your advisory team, including veterinarians and nutritionists.

Udder singeing

With the right tools everything is easier, that’s why I highly recommend installing head locks in robotic milking facilities. Every animal should accomplish this routine every two months, but to make it simpler and faster we should check for long hairy udders every week. This will ensure attachment accuracy, speed and robot performance. Investing one hour a week is more than enough to keep up.

Weekly Routines in a Robotic Milking Operation

Activity

Total hours/week

Bedding

4

General cow movements

2

Robot and equipment care

2

Vet Visits

2

General follow-up and system evaluation

2

Udder singeing

1

Total

13

The daily schedule of a well-managed robotic milking operation might look like this:

Daily schedule in a Robotic Milking Operation

Time

Activities

6:00 - 7:00

Feeding; Cleaning the robots and milk room

7:00 - 7:30

Check computer

7:30 - 8:00

Fetch overdue and incomplete cows

8:00 - 9:30

Herd Health; Training new animals; Changing filter

9:30 - 10:30

Groom stalls; Push up feed

10:30 - 11:00

Check computer

11:00 - 1:00

Free time and other tasks

1:00 - 1:05

Push up feed

1:05 - 3:00

Free time and other tasks

3:00 - 4:00

Feeding 

4:00 - 5:00

Herd Health; Training new animals; Changing filter

5:00 - 5:30

Groom stalls  

5:30 - 6:00

Check computer

6:00 - 6:30

Fetching overdue and incomplete cows; Push up feed

6:30 - 9:30

Free time and other tasks

9:30 - 9:40

General check; Push up feed; Change filter

9:40 - 6:00

Free time and other tasks

 If you have robotic milkers, it’s obvious that your time won’t be spent milking cows, but you will need to do the other basic chores and some extra routines – making better usage of your management skills. If spending time with your cows is a problem, robots won’t be your solution. Remember that the result is proportional to the quality of work, so before evaluating success, set your expectations at the right place.

Author

Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez
8 articles

DVM
Dairy Management Advisor - AMS Automatic Milking Systems
DeLaval North America

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DeLaval

DeLaval

Every day millions of dairy animals are milked, fed and maintained by DeLaval solutions in more than 100 countries worldwide – and DeLaval meets with over 10 000 milk producers on their farms. 

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