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Robotic Milking System ups Profitability

April 10, 2014

An Illinois dairy has found the change to robotic milking to be both positive and profitable.
By: DEBORAH GERTZ-HUSAR, The Quincy Herald-Whig

The cows are lined up for milking at the Shupe Dairy Farm north of Mendon, Ill.

Rod Shupe keeps watch as the cows move through one by one, but he's no longer doing the milking.

That's left up to a robotic system, in place on the farm since September, that handles the job around the clock.

It's a high-tech system for a farmer who admits he's not a high-tech guy.

"I'm pretty good at what I do, but this thing is better than me," Rod said. "I don't like to admit that, but with this technology, you can't get any better when it comes to milking technique."

The promise of feed pellets and the desire to be milked draws the cows to the milking area. A gate shuts behind the cow, then the system scans her electronic identification tag, determining whether she's ready to be milked.

"Say a cow got milked at 6 and comes back four hours later. Depending on production, the computer robot knows, 'I kick you out because you have to wait an hour or two more to have more milk' or 'I keep you because you're milking so well,' " Rod said. "That's what makes the decision, the robot. It's unbelievable what it can do."

The cow eats a ration of feed pellets as the robotic arm attaches to her udder and does the milking while tracking her milk production and feed intake. The milk then travels through an insulated pipeline into the farm's storage tank, which is emptied every other day.

"It really changes how the dairyman manages his cows," said Curt Heimer with Kaeb Equipment, which installed the Lely Astronaut robotic system. "It really gives him a different lifestyle. He doesn't have to be there at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. There's some flexibility in how he manages his cows."

"What you're not doing is spending what would have been three hours a day, twice a day, because it's milking time," Rod said. "When you're trying to cut hay, you don't have to stop and come back and do three hours and go back. You can get done earlier doing everything else. It frees up labor time."

He said the system also boosts milk production.

"You've got to have a good feed program, a good nutritionist, to make it all like a domino. One leads to another," he said. "The profitability goes up. The savings of labor goes up."

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