Milking with robots
Why should I be aware of this?
- Robotic milking systems are being increasingly used in the U.S.and other developing countries to cut labor costs and improve efficiency. The systems eliminate the need for farm workers to round up the animals, connect them to equipment, and manually track milking times and yield. Each robot does about 175 milkings per day, with the average bovine producing about 100 pounds of milk daily. Robotic milking takes eight minutes, a minute or two less than with milking systems that require manual help.
- Computers and new technologies like robotic milking mean lower labor costs, increased milking per day, more time for family and more time for other farm and herd considerations.
- The costly aspect of robots is not in steel or other materials, but in electronics. Over time, robots should become less expensive
Robotic milking is when a type of robot called an Automatic Milking System (AMS) replaces a person to do all the jobs involved in milking a herd of cows.
The system is set up to: Guide the cows to the milking shed Identify each of the cows individually Milk the cows Check the milk Record data about individual cows
Cows have to take themselves from the paddock to the automatic milking machine and then back out to the paddock again. The movement of the cows is directed using temporary fences and a system of cow-controlled and computer-controlled gates. Electronic information on each cow is stored in a computer, and is used to determine whether a particular cow is due to be milked or not. When the cow enters a ‘selection unit’ a signal from the computer directs the gate to open, either letting the cow back into pasture, or directing her up to the dairy for milking. A milking robot identifies the cow, usually by an electronic tag, and determines if the cow is to be milked. Once a cow has been approved for milking, the milking robot begins the milking process. When milking is completed, the milk is measured and pumped away. All milking information is then saved in the robot’s computer system.
No workers are needed
With robots no workers are needed during the milking process. When a cow enters the milking stall, the robot "recognizes" the cow by a transponder in her collar. Data about the cow, including the last time she was milked and her expected yield, is uploaded to the robot's Linux-based interface from a database running on a Windows PC. The DeLaval VMS uses a hydraulic arm, two lasers, and an imaging-processing system to detect the cow's teats, which are sanitized before milking. The equipment automatically detaches on completion.
Every cow’s is monitored and data fed into a herd-management database. Analysis tools let farmers evaluate the status of each cow and generate reports about milk production, such as daily averages. A health record software helps keep track of a cow's vaccinations, breeding, and related information.
Training and learning
After switching to robotic milking it takes 3-4 weeks for 85-90 percent of cows to get used the system voluntarily. Younger and more aggressive cows seem to adapt most easily. The cows are trained aggressively for 2-3 weeks which assures they have repeated exposure to the milking stall and understand that frequent visits are possible and rewarded with small allotments of grain fed during milking. After the training period the cows are left to fend for themselves and only moved by hand if milking intervals exceed 16 hours.
Most new heifers learn the routine in 2 or 3 days, but some individuals take longer. A fresh cow may need individual attention for 1 or 2 days to assist with initial teat location.
- The automated voluntary milking system has been developed after much research effort since the 1970s. 
- Voluntary milking allows the cow to decide its own milking time and interval, rather than being milked as part of a group at set milking times. 
- Automated milking requires complete automation of the milking process, as the cow may elect to be milked at any time during a 24 hour period. 
- The milking unit comprises a milking machine, a teat position sensor for automatic teat-cup application and removal, and a gate system for controlling cow traffic. The cows are permanently housed in a barn. 
- The innovative core of the AMS system is the robotic manipulator in the milking unit. This robotic arm automates the tasks of teat cleaning and milking attachment and removes the final elements of manual labour from the milking process. 
More on Milking with robots
What can I do to help
- ROBOT MILKING AND MILK QUALITY
- Milking with Robots Should Result in Better Quality of Life
- 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Robotic Milking of Dairy Cows