Dairy’s Future: Robots and a Whole Lot More
Oct 01, 2010
Sweeping change is afoot in dairy farming.
Everywhere I looked last week at World Dairy Expo, I saw robots, automation and new technology. I thought I had it tough just trying to learn how to handle my new laptop and software. But that’s nothing compared to the innovations making their way to dairy producers.
The approaching changes are not just about new machinery or products. They involve a whole new way of integrating your management practices with automated equipment and software and data. They involve milking that works hand in hand with feed, your barn environment, manure handling – even animal welfare and social responsibility.
One of the leaders in this evolution is DeLaval
, the international company that specializes in milking systems, equipment and products.
Just this morning, DeLaval highlighted its Smart Farming initiative at its huge exhibit here at Expo. As its presenters said, the Smart Farming concept involves “more than robots.”
|DeLaval's Damon Pattison demonstrates the company's new VMS system Friday at World Dairy Expo.
DeLaval is promoting an approach that empowers producers with decision tools and automation technologies for total farm management. The company believes that by seamlessly integrating products, services and knowledge, dairy producers will see better quality milk, herd management, productivity and profit.
One of DeLaval’s newest pieces of automation is its VMS (voluntary milking system
). Cows enter the milking unit on their own. A robotic arm reaches out to pre-dip her teats and then milk her. Not a human being in sight. Computer and software record and check the cow’s “dossier,” including her expected yield, lactation number, DIM and more. In seven to eight minutes, the cow – who’s been munching on a small but tasty feed snack, which enticed her into the unit in the first place – is finished milking.
About 100 VMS units operate in the U.S. among 40 or so dairies, DeLaval’s Damon Pattison told me today as he demonstrated how the system works. One large Pennsylvania dairy already operates 20 VMS units.
The VMS system is just one DeLaval offering. Just last month, the company introduced its AMR, or automatic milking rotary system. Designed for owners of larger herds, the AMR is based on a central computer using a number of robots to perform teat preparation, milk cup attachment and teat spraying. It’s flexible enough, Delaval says, to operate in different farming practices, from free stalls and loose housing to pasture-based dairying.
It’s interesting that much of the automated technology is originating in Europe, where dairy herds are typically smaller. Some question whether all this automation is really applicable to large U.S. herds, especially those in the West. Right now, the optimum herd size for a VMS system – using 4 units, each handling 60-70 cows -- is 360-400 cows. DeLaval officials say the new AMR will address large-herd needs.
Next month at the EuroTier show in Hanover, Germany, DeLaval will announce more details on its AMR system -– the first of many introductions destined to be made in the dairy industry in the next 10 years. (In fact, DeLaval announced today it has been awarded the EuroTier Gold Medal for its AMR system.)
The company -– like competitor Lely –- believes robotic milking will continue to grow. So do many others in the industry.
Ten years from now, the dairy industry will look quite different from today. The farmer of the future will not only partner with robots but with the people and companies who make and service them. I suspect that, like me with my new laptop, many dairy producers are in for a steep learning curve as they embrace technology and figure out how to put it to work for their dairies. There’s no way around it if you plan to be in business a decade or two from now.