The “Free-Flow World” Beckons
Oct 06, 2011
Judging by the standing-room-only attendance at two sessions at World Dairy Expo Thursday, there’s strong interest in robotic milking among dairy producers.
|Lely displays its Astronaut A4 Next robotic milking system at World Dairy Expo.
"Automatic milking is clearly a technology that is here to stay," said Douglas Reinemann of the University of Wisconsin in an educational seminar on automatic milking.
For Nor-Bert Farms of Bremen, Ind., that’s certainly true. The multi-generational dairy installed three Lely Astronaut A3 Next robotic milking units in 2010.
Family members shared that experience during a Virtual Farm Tour that followed Reinemann’s presentation.
"Life is forever changed with our robotic milking units," said Nor-Bert co-owner and family member Jennifer Freeman. "It was the right fit for us."
Ready to upgrade its older parlor and unwilling to hire more labor, the family decided to install the automated units after three years of research. "My grandfather, who started the dairy in 1945, was opposed at first to robots," Jennifer said. "But after seeing them work, he admits he was wrong."
Since it began robotic milking in August 2010, Nor-Bert Farms has seen multiple benefits. The dairy has reduced the numbers of cows it milks, from 153 to 147, in the last year. "But we’re getting more milk production," Jeremy Freeman said.
The dairy has a rolling herd average of 27,900 lb. Average per-cow production is 90 lb. of milk. Cows visit a robotic milking unit three times a day.
"Robotic milking also gives us more flexibility with our time," Jeremy Freeman said.
The Freemans said it takes some cows only three to five days to adjust to using the robotic milking, while others may take up to two weeks. "During the transition to robotic milking, we don’t force the cows to go into the units," Jeremy said. "We encourage them to keep going through the unit and eventually they learn. They adapt real quickly after they’ve calved."
Cows enter any of the three robotic milking units at will. Some cows always go to the same robotic unit. Others will enter whichever one is open. The animals wear collars with transponders that transmit cow-specific information to the robotic unit. They step into the unit, and it automatically hooks milking equipment to the cows. But the animals aren’t there for the milking. They’re there for the feed pellets placed in the robot’s stall.
"Feed is the key, not the drive to be milked," said Rick Rugg of Lely, which selected Nor-Bert Farms as its first choice for its Virtual Farm Tour. He referred to robotic milking as "the free-flow world."
Cows are fed a partial mixed ration (PMR) in the feedbunks. The pellets in the robotic milking unit make up the rest of their diet.
Nor-Bert Farms has had minimal start-up and equipment problems with the robotic units, Jennifer said. Family members have learned to handle minor maintenance needs, such as changing out the liners or checking hoses for holes. Their robots are on a quarterly maintenance schedule with a Lely technician.
Rugg estimated there are 12,000 robotic milking units in the world today. "We expect more by year’s end," he said. "In Western Europe, 60% to 70% of new milking installations are robots."
Lely sponsored the Nor-Bert Virtual Farm Tour. DeLaval sponsored Reinemann’s Expo Seminar.