The Milking Robot Splash Gets Bigger
Posted: February 27, 2007
At the recent PA Dairy Summit a break out session on robotic milking provided a good update on both the world wide and Pennsylvania situation concerning this technology. Milking cows with robotic manipulators, computer vision systems and no continuous human intervention is not just a splash in the pan. In reports in the August and September 2000 issues of the Dairy Digest I discussed this very young technology that was being commercialized primarily in Western Europe but was also in eastern Canada. It appears that the PA dairy industry is continuing to give this technology a good hard look and several of our dairy herds are being reliably milked with milking robots.
Following are some points from attending this breakout session and from my observations and discussions through the last 10 years.
- There are two legitimate and dependable companies ready to supply this technology to PA farmers: Lely and Delaval.
- Major development of this technology is centered in Western Europe.
- The rough budget cost for a unit is around $200,000
- The systems are getting better and more forgiving at attaching to misshapen udders. Just like human milkers, they have cows that they “just don't get along with.”
- The US FDA PMO (Pasteurized Milk Ordinance) has been amended to recognize this technology and the companies are familiar with the requirements and changes in milk handling methods and equipment required for US installation.
- Pennsylvania milk regulators are familiar with and seem to be friendly to this new technology while at that same time assuring protection of the quality and wholesomeness of our milk supply.
- Clean, comfortable and mobile cows are a must for these systems to work. • There is more to be learned in what is the most effective and efficient barn layout to both encourage the cow to visit the milking robot and promote cow care, comfort and cleanliness.
- The systems are cow friendly and there are less opportunities for cow injury from moving large groups around the barn and the associated jostling and crowding.
- Management of the freestall barn must consider that cows are always in all parts of the barn.
- The system will be harder for you to learn to adapt to than for your cows.
Robotic milking in Pennsylvania has come a long way in a very short time. Our dairy industry is lucky to have several PA dairy farms and two companies who have invested time and dollars in learning about and demonstrating this technology. The concept that a machine can identify and milk cows and that cows can be encouraged to voluntarily present themselves to be milked without direct human intervention works! It is no more perfect than our traditional tie stall, pasture and milking parlor systems of milking but it appears to be just as good.
The system requires the oversight and care of a concerned cow person who is comfortable working around technology and interacting with both cows and computers.
Our presenters stressed the importance of “visit, visit, visit” as many systems as possible to see what works and what doesn't. They also indicated that the important thing to be learning and watching was how the system and cows were managed. Anyone seriously considering this technology needs to have the time and resources to visit farms, preferably including some in Europe but definitely get across the border to Canada.
Spending a considerable length of time hours/days shadowing a successful user whose system you are attracted to would also be a good investment. A fact sheet on Robotic Milking Systems can be found at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/G105.pdf
Robert E. Graves, Agricultural Biological Engineering Extension