Housing Considerations for
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

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.

Cow Traffic

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.

Layouts

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 One: Three Row Barn with Single Box Automated Milker
Figure Two: Four Row Barn with Multiple Boxes and Single Drive Through

Figure Two: Four Row Barn with Multiple Boxes and Single Drive Through

Figure Three: Alternate Multiple Box Layout
Figure Three: Alternate Multiple Box Layout
Figure Four: Four Row Barn with Two Drive Through Feed Alleys
Figure Four: Four Row Barn with Two Drive Through Feed Alleys
Figure Five: Four Row Barn with Outside Walkway
 
Figure Five: Four Row Barn with Outside Walkway

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Harold House - Engineer, Beef and Dairy Structures and Equipment/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 29 November 2001
Last Reviewed: 29 November 2001