Automated Milking Systems
Robotic or automated milking systems provide some interesting challenges
in terms of dairy housing. Cow grouping, cow flow, location of milking
units, all have to be considered in terms of such things as barn
layout, manure handling, and ventilation.
Cow grouping with automated milking is based more on maximizing
milker unit use as opposed to stage of lactation, or group size
to match the milking parlour. The group size needs to be balanced
with the capacity of the automated milker. The group size will be
determined by whether a single box automated milking system is used
or a multiple box system is used. In order for larger herds (>120
cows) to use this technology, the overall herd must be divided into
several smaller groups with an automated milking system sized to
match each group.
One goal of automated milking is to have the cows move freely between
resting and feeding, and milking. This free choice by the cow is
one of the reasons that automated milking is attractive from an
animal-behaviour point of view. However, during the training period
it is advantageous to have one-way cow traffic. Studies comparing
the two systems have concluded that:
- both give an acceptable number of milkings per cow
- more cows had to be fetched in the free flow situation
- longer waiting times occurred with one-way traffic
But overall, the free flow system seemed like the best choice.
With this in mind it is best to have a layout, that can allow for
one-way traffic flow when the heifers, or new cows are being trained,
but can still allow for free flow traffic the rest of the time.
Location of Automated Milkers
The location of the automatic milking units is not only important
for accessibility for the cows, but they also have to be accessible
for observation, maintenance, and repair. Consideration must also
be given to the distance between the automated milker and the milk
storage tank. The shorter this distance is, the less milk line there
is to be maintained and cleaned.
At present the automatic milking units are not designed to work
in an environment below freezing. Therefore it is necessary to have
the units as part of the office/utility area where they will remain
above freezing, or to have them self contained with a heater. The
other option is to use individual heating units to keep them warm
enough to function properly.
Automated milkers must also be located with manure handling, and
ventilation in mind. The location must be suitable so that the milking
units do not interfere with the manure removal system. In some cases
this can make slatted floor manure systems more attractive. Good
ventilation is always important. The location of the milking units
must not block airflow to the resting and eating areas of the bar.
Figures 1 to 5 illustrate some of the layouts that are now in use
for automated milking systems.
Figure One: Three Row Barn with Single Box Automated Milker
Figure Two: Four Row Barn with Multiple Boxes and Single Drive
Figure Three: Alternate Multiple Box Layout
Figure Four: Four Row Barn with Two Drive Through Feed Alleys
Figure Five: Four Row Barn with Outside Walkway