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4 considerations when thinking about adding robotics to the dairy barn4 considerations when thinking about adding robotics to the dairy barn

While robotics can increase milk production and decrease labor, that doesn't mean there is no need for management with robots in the barn.

Curt Arens

December 14, 2016

3 Min Read

Robotics isn't in the cards for every dairy producer, but it is a technology being looked at closely by producers throughout the industry to save on labor management and potentially improve production. "We are seeing robots being installed on all sizes of dairies from 70 milking cows and larger," says Nebraska Dairy Extension educator Kim Clark. There are several considerations, pros and cons, for adding robotics to a dairy, Clark says. Here are a few of Clark's major considerations:

Cost. Clark says there are several cost-related questions to answer. What is the total cost? How long will it take to pay off the investment? How many robots are needed?

4_considerations_thinking_adding_robotics_dairy_barn_1_636172373074285748.jpgMORE MILK: According to Nebraska Dairy Extension educator Kim Clark, robots can add up to 20% in milk production, but there are trade-offs because of large initial investment and continued need for managers for production and animal health.

What's the point? Why is the producer considering robots to begin with? "Some may be considering robots from the labor side, whether it is hired labor or family labor," she explains. "If it is family labor, most of the time, producers are thinking about robots to free up their labor from milking to use in another area and even to give the family more time together," she says.

What changes will be needed to facilities to add robots? "Some facilities will easily be adaptable for robots, while other producers will need new facilities," Clark notes.

Is operation expansion on the horizon? It is important for the producer to know what capacity they want to be milking five, 10 or 15 years from now. "It is easiest to plan for this during the initial planning for the robots," Clark says.

Some of the positive aspects of robotics include as much as a 20% increase in milk production, because the cows are milking more frequently, resulting in additional production and potentially added revenue. "The amount of hired labor can be decreased, but there is a shift in management style," Clark says. "Generally, one to two people can evaluate milk production and animal health each day."

She says that robots do more than just milk cows. They can also monitor animal activity, rumination, weight and animal records, recorded electronically in one place.

But the initial investment is large. "If a producer has plans to expand the herd, it is important to know these plans so facilities with the robots can be built accordingly," Clark says. "New facilities may have to be built if existing facilities cannot be adapted for robots," she notes. "Also, the systems are very dependent on computers and if there is a hiccup in the system, it needs to be fixed right away. And there isn't always a robot representative in the area that can fix the issue," she adds.

"Robots are for everyone that wants to make the investment and shift their labor management. But it is important to remember there is still a need for labor when it comes to the milking herd," Clark says. "The farm labor becomes more of a manager, assessing milk production, feed consumption, bedding the stalls, animal hygiene and overall health management on a daily basis." Clark says adding robotics basically moves their milkers to a position as animal care and performance managers.

You can learn more about robotics in dairying in Nebraska by contacting Clark at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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