Robotics Growing in Population

It is estimated 15,000 dairy farms across the world milk with robotics, with most herd sizes ranging from 50 to 250 cows. The most popular location for robotics thus far has been in Western Europe where labor costs are higher than many regions of the world.

Automatic milking is here to stay worldwide, says Jack Rodenburg, a former dairy Extension specialist in Canada and current consultant with DairyLogix.

Robotic milkers first made it to North America in 1999, when a farm not far from Rodenburg’s home in Ontario, Canada added single box unit. “Robotics tend to be more popular on family farms because they can really improve the lifestyle,” Rodenburg says. “Farmers aren’t tied to fixed milking times.”

The work tends to be more flexible in a robotic operation and can become more interesting because of the advancements in technology. There are economic reasons to consider milking with robotics, too.

“Parlors have become bigger and they have never really fit the small farm model,” Rodenburg says. Cleaning and setting up for milking in a parlor system can sometimes take just as long as milking on smaller farms. Though labor requirements in parlors are less than in stall barns, there is still the need for people to push up cows and attach milkers.

Robotic milkers have also become more attractive to small operations because there is little price difference between installing a new parlor versus a couple of robots. But it’s not only smaller farms, larger farms are beginning to witness those advantages, too.

Still, most robotic farms are less than 500 cows. Rodenburg estimates there are fewer than 60 farms across the globe milking 500 cows or more with box robots. Currently, fewer than 20 robotic rotaries are in use.

Greater adoption coming

As labor becomes more expensive and difficult to find, the next decade could see greater robotics adoption. Farms using robotics tend to see a reduction of 20% to 40% in labor hours. However, producers who invest in robotics will end up paying higher wages per employee because more skilled labor will be required, Rodenburg adds. The overall labor costs should correlate to a 15% to 20% reduction.

“I think large herds will adopt robotics because it will improve their economics through higher production per cow,” Rodenburg says.

Using robotic milking eliminates holding pen time where cows stand for long periods on concrete, occasionally in poorly ventilated parts of the dairy. This adds time for cows to be at the feedbunk, chewing cud, drinking water, lying down and ruminating, all of which contribute to increasing milk output.

Animal welfare can be enhanced because of the reduction in crowding. “Consumers love robotic milking. They perceive it as giving the cow freedom of choice and being substantially more cow friendly,” Rodenburg says.

It has been difficult to manage cows individually as herd sizes climb, but now technology is helping turn the focus back to individual cows. Let the computer help you manage things and there will be a lot of opportunity for herd improvement and profit, Rodenburg says.

Individually feeding cows can be more easily performed in a robotic system, helping increase efficiency. “Grandpa did it because he only had 20 cows,” Rodenburg says. “This whole notion of individual management on the cow level is going to create wonderful opportunities in the future.”

Source – Dairy Herd

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