Here’s the Skinny

In our 2018 Winter issue for our ‘Here’s the Skinny’ column, we asked the question “How has switching to a robotic milking system made the biggest economic impact on your farm?”

Duane Zimmer – Zimmer Holsteins, Alberta
“Economically the biggest impact has been that our milk value per day has been way higher. Our cows average 42 kg’s consistently and now, if a 2 year old doesn’t milk 45 Litres than there are issues of some sort. I find I’m breeding cows over 100 days in milk because they are working hard, which is fine with me. Going robotic didn’t really save us a lot of money labour-wise because we were doing most of the work ourselves before, so for us it’s definitely been all about the production increase. We chose Lely because I had few friends who had Lely already and a couple that were putting them in at the same time as us, so it was nice to share information with each other.”

Zimmer Holsteins is located in Daysland, Alberta, and they milk 80 Holstein cows with two Lely robots. They switched to their robotic facility from a loose housing stanchion barn in 2016.

Richard Baynes – Marleycote Ayshires & Dairy Shorthorns, Hexam, England

“Switching to robots has left us far less reliant on hired labour than before and free up more of my time to manage the herd more efficiently. The change to robots and a facility built with cow welfare and comfort as a priority has seen yields rise from 6000 to over 8000 litres. Cell counts have dropped from over 220 to under 120, mastitis is rare, and fertility has improved. We went from an old double 12 herring bone parlour with an assorted collection of outdated housing, wooden kennels, straw yards and metal cubicles for 120 cows. The new facility has 124 cubicles and straw yard for 16, and is built specifically for two Lely A3 robots, all on slats.”

The Baynes family milks 107 cows, 85 Ayrshire and 30 Dairy Shorthorns, sells 30-40 breeding animals per year and is bottling 50% of their own milk.

Elyse Gendron, Ferme Val-Bisson, Quebec
“The biggest impact for us has been the reduction in labour. We need one less fulltime employee since putting in the robot. Both Jean and I are involved in many ag organizations and are away for a many days, so the robot is a good fit for us. We already had high production before the robot (over 12,000 kg/avg) and we wanted to milk 3X per day to help the cows, without managing extra staff. Currently we have no succession plan in place, so we didn’t want to build an entirely new facility. We made modifications to our current facility, moving lights and air vents, to accommodate the robot for our tie-stall facility. It’s built by a Quebec company called Milkomax and uses a Lely A2 arm to go from cow to cow. The robot can do about 150 milkings/day, so depending on the producer’s goal you can milk 70-75 cows twice.

Ferme Val-Bisson is located in St. Polycarpe, QC, and they milk an average of 65 Holstein cows. They have 50 cows on the robot fulltime for 3X per day milking. The remaining cows that are fresh, sick or long in lactation are milked 2X per day with regular milking units.  

David Jones, Jones Dairy, California

We have seen the writing on the wall with regard to labor availability in our market for some time now. That was what began the discussion about robotics for us. We currently milk most of our herd in an aging flat barn that was running almost 24 hours a day before the launch of the robots. We knew we needed a new solution that would be easier on our workforce, but we couldn’t get excited about any of the conventional options.

The biggest shift and the greater opportunities come from a change in the way we manage cows. We have greater control over nutrition, traffic, and a greater insight into cow behavior with these units. We also get to reallocate the time a cow spends standing in a holding pen for her to do other things like consume more dry matter or lay down and make milk. This summer, we saw our cows on robots hold their milk production better than the rest of the herd. We have seen better reproduction numbers, lower services per conception, reduced stress on animals, longer productive life and additional pounds of milk.

Jones Dairy is located in Modesto, California. They installed their first two DeLaval VMS robots in January 2018 for 100 cows and have plans to transition the other 700 cows onto additional robots in the next few years. They’ve viewed the first two robots as an experiment and are incredibly pleased with the results.