Milking robots can help dairy farmers increase efficiency, ease staffing issues, and improve public perception of milking cows, delegates heard at this year’s Dairy-Tech Online.

Speaking during the Robotic Milking session on February 5, NMR/RABDF Gold Cup Winner Robert Sloane from Ayrshire said this past year had been the most important for having milking robots.

“Robots have given us staffing flexibility, which has been fundamental with Covid-19. Robots mean we can be more flexible, which frees up time for jobs such as hoof trimming, vaccinations, and clipping,” he said.

Sloane wanted to increase milking to three-times a day, which led to the installation of three Lely robots. He says one of the big benefits of robots has been the positive public perception.

The public perception of robots is good as the cows are making their own decision when to be milked. This is of increasing importance.

George Lester farms in Shropshire and has three Lely robots and a Lely Vector feeding system.

He made the move to robots when his herdsman was looking to retire, and parlour hygiene was an issue.

He says one of the big benefits has been the data he obtains from the robots.

We get data from every cow at every milking. It takes their weight, provides us with the usual health data and their rumination activity.

“We also get a lot of udder health information such as mastitis info, milk conductivity and somatic cell counts, which allows prompt treatment.”

Concentrate Optimiser software

Lester uses the Concentrate Optimiser software on his robots to create an individual feed table for every cow.

This automatically alters the amount of feed given in the robot for each cow to produce milk most efficiently.

When he first started using the software, in the two weeks before drying off concentrates were reduced from 5-6kg to 1kg.

In about half of cows, milk production dropped off, but in the remainder of the cows, milk production continued.

He added:

“This made us think that some cows were not converting 5-6kg of concentrates into milk throughout their lactation.

Cows are like humans – some can eat as much as they like and not put on weight and some only have to look at a beef burger to put it on.

“It made us realise we can’t treat every cow the same.”

By using the Concentrate Optimiser software, Lester has halved his concentrate tonnage bringing a £30,000 saving in concentrate costs a year.

However, his forage costs have increased, as he has more than doubled the amount of milk from forage, increasing from 6L to 14L of milk from forage.

His extra forage costs are about £15,000, which still yields him a £15,000 saving by reducing concentrate costs.

The software considers milk price and feed costs, but not fixed costs. A feed table is set up in the background, which the software uses to base its decisions off.

Lester said he has not seen any drop in milk or fertility as he is still providing the cows with sufficient energy by offering forage.

Aside from the feed savings, he has seen other long-term benefits.

“We are not getting as many fat cows at drying off, which can cause calving difficulties and fertility issues,” he concluded.