July 19, 2018
Early this year, Farm Progress pressed GEA marketing officials to confirm where in the United States the first game-changing automated robotic rotary parlor was being built. Tight-lipped, they grinned and refused to say.
Instead, they pointed to the DairyProQ model stalls being carted around the country to farm shows and said: "The future is here." At least they weren't fibbing.
Two DairyProQ rotary robotic systems, a 40-stall rotary milking 600 cows in Wisconsin and a 60-stall rotary now milking 1,500 North Dakota cows, were completed at the end of 2017. And in mid-July, Matt Daley, GEA vice president of sales, reported four more U.S. dairy farms would be milking with the ProQ rotaries by this year's end. They include:
• A 60-stall system now milking 2,000 cows in Minnesota
• A 60-stall rotary scheduled to start milking 2,200 Colorado cows in July
• An 80-stall system for 3,300 Texas cows starting up in August
• A 72-stall California rotary for 2,800 cows to be completed in December
When all are online, these six farms will milk more than 12,000 cows.
Labor the driving force
With more than 35,000 robotic milking systems on farms around the world, robotic milking isn't just a rich farmer's game. Next to feed costs, labor is a dairy's second largest expense, and the most vulnerable to disruption according to dairy analysts. That's why large- and small-scale dairies are taking long, hard looks at robotic milking.
Daley estimates 2% of U.S. cows are currently milked using robots in rotary or box-style configurations. He also predicts at least 30-40% of cows could be milked robotically within seven years.
CLEAN AND COMPACT: Each station tucks away its own milking robot and data recording system.
"For dairies of any size, it's not a matter of if robots will be part of your operation, it's a matter of when," contends Daley. "The ability to essentially lock in labor costs for the future is driving these early adopters."
How small does ProQ go
Rotary parlor systems have always been for mid- to large-scale operations. The ProQ is for milking herds of 500 cows and up. It's available in configurations of 28-80 milking stations, automatically handling approximately 120-400 cows per hour. One key factor is that one operator can supervise the entire routine, from attachment through to dipping and cleaning.
The only question remaining now is when the first robotic rotary will spin into your neighborhood?
USDA has funded an Extension program with an analysis of the economics of robotic milking systems. Check it out.
Did you count them all?
If you guessed that the rotary parlor pictured above has 60 stalls, you'd be right.
About the Author(s)
Editor, American Agriculturist
For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.
Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.
John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.
John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.
His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.
Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.
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