In barns with automated milking systems, we give cows the resources they need: feed, comfortable lying space, good quality air, fresh water, and social interaction. The cow has control of how and when to use those assets.
“We give the cow resources; she has to make choices,” said Jouni Pitkäranta of 4d Barn Consulting during a presentation at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) Annual Business Conference.
He pointed out, though, that there is room for improvement in robot barn design. For instance, some herds milking with robots may find lower milk production, higher somatic cell counts, and a greater incidence of ketosis.
Pitkäranta and Virpi Kurkela, also with 4d Barn Consulting, shared the following features that can improve cow health and welfare in robotic milking facilities:
- Good sorting possibilities for cows needing attention. This includes good routing and functional gates that allow one person to move a cow from the milking group to this treatment area.
- Well designed and functional footbaths, ideally located along the cows’ exit route from the robot but not too close to the robot.
- Comfortable stalls with deep bedding.
- Solid, nonslip flooring.
- Enough bunk space per cow (at least 24 inches for milking cows and 30 inches for transition cows).
- The correct number of cows per robot. Data from 4d Barn Consulting shows the right number is 55 cows per robot. Risks of having too many cows per robot include more fetch cows, less milk per cow, higher somatic cell counts, and fewer robot visits per cow.
The pair also mentioned that producers with robotic barns may want to create a VIC group — or Very Important Cow group. This pen would include fewer animals for less competition. It would be located close to the robot to allow for easier milking of timid cows or heifers and more frequent visits by farm managers or employees.