Consider designs when moving to an automated milking system


Farm and dairy file photo.

The adoption of the automated milking system continues to grow as labor shortages increase and labor costs increase. The workforce skills required for automated systems are often different from those of a conventional milking system.

The main factors that currently determine whether an automated system is more cost effective than a conventional system are increased milk production and labor savings. Whether as part of a system remodel or a new construction, the greatest effect on these two elements is the design of the facility.


In an automated system of 42 herds, one study found that the average milk production per cow was 85 pounds per head per day, with 2.8 milkings per day. The desire for cows to be milked throughout the day is not constant, so it is important to plan for robot interruptions, such as washing, during slower times for robot visits.

A study with wash cycles at 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. showed that the lowest average visit times were around 2:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

A University of Wisconsin survey found that robot productivity, measured by production per cow, was maximized at 55 cows, with a study range of 53 to 70 cows per robot. The number of extraction cows increases and robot visits decrease as the number of cows per box increases. The more cows over 60 per robot, the greater the drop in milk production per cow.

Having at least two robots per pen also increases production per robot by allowing at least one robot to continue milking during maintenance and increasing the chances of robot access for shy cows. In herds with three or more robots, first lactating heifers may benefit from their own group of robots. The average American dairy herd is made up of 38% first lactation heifers.

This allows for easier adoption of robot input, different feeding and lighting strategies, and all of this benefits the heifer transition.


The three main factors to consider when designing an automated system are the circulation system, the power supply, and the location of the footbath, all of which greatly affect milk production.

Free flow systems have been shown to produce more milk per cow, but also have a greater feed allocation at the robot level. The free flow system also showed more time spent eating the partially mixed ration. The free flow system has a higher number of extraction cows.

Another design option known as the hybrid feed system tries to use the best of both worlds by allowing free access to the feeder to help maximize intake in high yielding herds. The hybrid system has at least one cross that allows cows to move back and forth from feed to free stalls of free choice, and the other crosses can use one-way gates.

The hybrid system still uses feed pens, where cows can eat and wait to be milked.


Feeding systems have a significant effect on milk production. Studies have compared pushing manual feeding to pushing automated feeding and using the feeder. One study found that automated system farms that used automated feed distribution systems produced 10 pounds per cow per day. This increase was shown in another study to be due to an increase in food pumps per day.

Farms that pushed feed manually averaged 4.4 feed pumps per day, but when an automated feed pump system was used, the average feed thrust was 16.8 times per day. The frequency of feed rushes showed an increase in dry matter intake and resting time as the cows spent less time foraging.

As with conventional systems, feeder space and water availability are critical to milk production, with an increase of 0.7 pounds per cow per day when feeder space has been increased by 4 inches. per cow and per day.

Other factors

The location of the water outside the robot is also critical, with cows consuming 50-60% of their daily water right after milking. Manure management and the layout of footbath systems are also critical decisions in the design of automated system installations.

While aisle cleaning systems and frequencies have shown a significant effect on somatic cell and udder hygiene, the type of system, manual or automated, has had little effect on milk production.

Planning the location of the footbaths in the initial design is essential for its use. The footbath should be convenient to set up and clean, and not restrict the flow of cows too much. The ideal location for the foot bath is after the robot exits, but not immediately after the robot if possible. There should be a full length of cow from the outlet to where the cows enter the footbath.

These are just a few considerations for a profitable transition to an automated system.


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