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Dairy Today Expo Extra

RSS By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today

Dairy Today's Catherine Merlo brings you the latest from the World Dairy Expo.

Coming to a Dairy near You: Robotic Milking for Large Dairy Herds

Oct 03, 2013

There’s plenty of interest in Robotic Milking Systems from large-herd dairies this week at World Dairy Expo. Five of the biggest equipment milking companies are here featuring RMS displays. Do they see a future for RMS in large herds?

There’s plenty of interest in Robotic Milking Systems (RMS) from large-herd dairies this week at World Dairy Expo. Five of the biggest equipment milking companies – AMS-Galaxy USA, BouMatic, DeLaval, GEA Technologies and Lely -– are here in Madison featuring RMS displays.

DeLaval robotics
DeLaval’s Mark Fletcher with one of the company's robotic milkers this week at Expo.

Although the majority of the world’s 10,000 RMS are located in Europe, where herd sizes are small, the systems are becoming more common in the U.S., according to Marcia Endres of the University of Minnesota. Endres spoke Thursday at an Expo Educational Seminar about a study she and co-investigator Jim Salfer are conducting on how RMS perform in U.S. dairy conditions and management styles. Their findings will be released next spring. Steady RMS growth is taking place in the Upper Midwest, especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Endres said.

For now, each RMS unit is designed to milk 60 cows. But is there a place for RMS in large herds with 1,000 cows or more?

"Absolutely," DeLaval’s Mark Fletcher told me. He’s been talking to several large-herd dairy producers this week at World Dairy Expo. They’re intrigued with RMS’ potential for labor savings and its technological ability to drill down to individual cow information. Larger-herd producers are looking at ways to bring in RMS, whether through retrofitting their existing facilities or constructing new ones. Fletcher knows of one Pennsylvania dairy that’s milking 1,100 of its 2,200 cows using 20 RMS systems.

Likewise, GEA Technologies’ Greg Larson has had numerous large-herd producers stop by his exhibit this week. "They’re looking at transitioning to RMS due to labor and immigration law changes and family farm transitions," Larson said. They’re also interested in milking cows at a high rate – up to 4x daily --something that RMS makes possible. Some are looking at milking just their fresh and late-lactation cows in their regular milking facilities and then using RMS for their cows that are 21-200 days in milk.

Stronger profit margins in the Midwest may be driving the greater RMS interest there than shown by Western dairies. "Midwest dairies have seen gains and are reinvesting back into their dairies," said Larson.

All agree that RMS opportunities for large herds will grow as the technology increases.

"We’re very optimistic about robotic technology growing into the large-herd concept," said Rick Rugg, Lely’s Midwest regional manager. Lely counts 15,000 RMS globally and 1,500 in North America. "We’re striving hard to help make RMS economically justifiable for large-herd dairies."

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