One of the busiest dairy exhibits at World Ag Expo this week in Tulare, Calif., gave an up-close look at what is the inevitable future for many large herd farms - a fully automated rotary milking parlor.
The DairyProQ from GEA Farm Technologies is the second robotic rotary configuration to be introduced so far, but the first to provide udder prep, unit attachment, postdipping, and unit back flushing at each individual stall. This allows the platform to stay in constant motion as cows load and exit, like nonrobotic rotaries do.
The five-stall section on display was like a magnet to passersby, who regularly stood three and four deep in front of it. The distinct multi-generational make-up of the audience is worth noting. Older individuals tended to look from a distance, but younger generation members tended to get up close and inspect the mechanics and the process.
Company representatives said the parlors can be configured with between 28 and 80 stalls, each with its own "module" for the robotic components that can be easily removed and exchanged for maintenance if needed.
Two 40-stall parlors are already in operation in Germany. In addition, a 28-stall unit for 600 cows (3x) and a 40-stall unit for 1,200 cows (3x) are due to come on-line in Holland March 1. Three parlors have been sold in Germany and one in Holland but have yet to begin construction. The company's goal is to sell 1,000 robotic modules in 2015.
Approximate cost of a robotic rotary parlor is three times that of a conventional one. And yet, the high cost did not come as a deterrent to everyone. In fact, I spoke to one local dairyman who is not only extremely interested, but his banker is too.
"One of these would eliminate 75 percent of my employees and 95 percent of my headaches," he said.
That, in a nutshell, sums up not only the declining supply and quality situation of labor on dairy farms, but also why robotic milking at large dairies is so inevitable.
The author has served large Western dairy readers for the past 37 years and manages Hoard's WEST, a publication written specifically for Western herds. He is a graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, majored in journalism and is known as a Western dairying specialist.