Realistic expectations start by understanding the key principles for the successful operation of a robotic milking system. Farmers who are successful, keep the following principles in mind.
1. Voluntary cow movement – you need the infrastructure and management strategies that encourage consistent and reliable cow traffic around the farm.
2. Accurate feed allocation – your feed management is the key to reliable cow movement. Cows are mostly motivated to move by the hope of accessing more feed. A robotic milking unit is an expensive piece of equipment to be used primarily as a feeding station.
3. A distributed milking pattern – this refers to the milking units being used fairly evenly over a 24-hour period. You need to reap the benefit of your investment in milking units by ensuring utilisation rates are optimised.
In challenging practical situations or when you have decisions to make, remember these three principles and what the system needs to achieve overall.
The move to a robotic milking system is a big change for you, your staff and your cows. It helps to get a sense of how these changes may impact on your farm. Consider the following issues:
Staff attitudes and skills
Are staff interested or threatened by the technology and new ways of doing things? Their interest and knowledge will be a big factor in the success or failure of the system.
Staff will need thorough training in the operation of the system software and what to do when faced with alerts and alarms. Understanding the principles of how a robotic milking system works is critical to problem solving.
Trusting the cows and the machines
Can you walk away to let the cows explore, learn the system and use the milking units? A robotic milking system is not made to be watched! Cows learn very quickly when not pushed but it can be a hard change of mind-set for the people involved.
Use the reports and software to monitor the performance of the system instead of just watching the cows. If a robot is struggling to get the cups on, trust that the system will inform you.
Coping with the technology
How frustrated do you get when technology doesn’t work? If you like a ‘quick fix’ then you may find robotic milking system glitches challenging initially. You will be dealing with complicated technology, software and highly specialised engineering solutions.
Take the time to find out why a milking station cannot milk a cow and then remedy the cause.
Does the udder hair need singeing? Does the laser lens need cleaning? Or does the robot need retraining for this particular cow’s udder conformation? Try to avoid putting the station in manual mode and placing the cups on teats manually as this only makes cup attachment more difficult for the robot and more frustrating for the cow at the next milking.
ForFarmers will work alongside you to help develop a robotic system and gets optimum performance from your robot and your cows. We have equipped our team with the practical knowledge of all UK robotic systems and bring our international experience in robotic milking management to help you get the results you want from your system.
“Attaining excellent feed quality, water, light, air, rest, space and cow health is the basis for establishing a successful robotic milking system,” says ForFarmers’ Philip Ambler. “Our robotic milking customers have access to a wealth of international knowledge and experience from our multi-disciplinary team."
“Understanding those factors which influence cows visiting the robot of their own free will is important. It is crucial that cows go to the robot voluntarily, regularly and with adequate frequency. This is equally true of their other activities such as eating, drinking and lying down."
“We can help you implement a robotic milking system start-up, ensure it’s working optimally and monitor activity with our unique analysis and benchmarking tool RAP (Robot Appraisal Tool). We can also design you a specific robotic milking system feed solution, powered by our Feed2Milk programme,” Philip explains.
“The robot farmer has to think comprehensively and coherently about the interaction of all activities, scheduling, shed design, feeding etc in essence ‘system thinking’. By its nature it is a different approach than the more traditional parlour systems, in respect of thinking, both in terms of processes, tasks and functions, but also the challenges it presents. But with the challenges comes greater opportunities,” he concludes.