Introduced in 2000, automated milking systems (AMS) have seen more presence in the dairy industry as we have become more technologically advanced. Also known as robots, the use of AMS on dairy farms can affect productivity and the quality of life for dairy cows and their caretakers. At the recent Dairy Innovation Hub Symposium in Madison, Wis., graduate student Jalyssa Beaudry identified key economic and demographic attributes that influence dairy farmers’ decisions to incorporate AMS into their operations.

Unlike milking parlors that require human labor to help complete the milking process, robots allow the cow to be milked without the need for an operator. One automated milking system is capable of milking 60 to 70 cows per day and can cost anywhere between $150,000 to $275,000. This does not account for maintenance and infrastructure costs associated with installation. On average, farmers purchase two to four units initially, Beaudry noted.

One reason dairy farmers are making the switch to AMS is due to hired labor challenges. Most of the time, the farmer is also the human resources department. Finding, training, and maintaining reliable help can pose its own challenges and can be time consuming. Anticipating that the need for employees would be reduced after robots were installed, the study showed that when farmers did install AMS, the number of employees on the farm actually remained the same. Beaudry would like to investigate what roles employees are taking on if they are not needed to milk the cows in future studies.

If using robots, farmers have the opportunity to collect more data about their herd, allowing them to make more profitable decisions in terms of culling. In this study, it was reported that farms that use AMS had higher rolling herd averages than those that did not, Beaudry noted.

Technology is rapidly changing the way we think and work in the dairy industry. Common reasons for installing this technology were to reduce labor, improve milk production, reduce stress, and increase the amount of time being spent with family.

The use of AMS and the data it provides producers is expected to become more popular as we advance into the future. After surveying the farm owners, the graduate student revealed that 8% of farmers are currently using AMS while 18% are considering implementation on their farms in the future. Of the 673 survey respondents, Beaudry said one of the main reasons farmers did not want to adopt AMS was due to the expense of the investment. Farmers with AMS tended to have at least 10 years of dairy farming experience or more.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
May 27, 2024
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