Agriculture faces enormous challenges over the coming decades. Farmers have to keep pace with rapid population growth and the need to deliver food at progressively more competitive prices. This will all need to be achieved in a sustainable way, on a continuously reducing carbon hoof-print.
The farming community is characterized by families, like us, who are fully aware that they will leave their business to future generations. We are installed these five robot milkers to make a better life for our animals, our employees, our consumers, and our family.
How they work:
Cows hate obstacles, and the Lely Astronaut A4 cow box has a walkthrough design that takes this into account. The cow walks straight in and out of the unit without making turns. This makes it easier for the cow which also shortens the learning curve. Each animal wears a collar so the robot can identify her.
2. Snacks Time
Once inside, the cow has a feeding trough to keep her occupied. The trough automatically dispenses food to suit each cow based on her last milking. This allows us to give each animal more a more individualized diet. As the trough swings clear at the end of milking, this encourages the cow to walk forward and leave.
3. Teat Detection
The robot arm swings below and remains underneath the cow and controls the entire milking process. With almost all sensors housed in the arm, measurement is done close to the udder and the hookup is usually accurate.
Attachment speed and accuracy is a crucial factor for the capacity of the robot. A 3D camera monitors the movement of the cow from above which results in the perfect arm position for ensuring fast detection and attachment. It also eliminates unnecessary arm movements, is much gentler for the cow, and allows the fastest possible attachment for all types of udders.
The first time a cow is ever milked, we must manually hook up the robot. This allows the computer to “learn and remember” what each animal’s udder looks like.
A set of counter-rotating brushes automatically cleans the teats of dirt and manure with a mild chlorine-free detergent. The brushing also stimulates the production of oxytocin as well as improving milk flow speed.
Soap and water are used to clean the machine between each milking. This kills 99.9% of all bacteria.
The milk is moved from the arm through the rest of the system by means of compressed air impeller pumps. Compressed air is the preferred method of powering a milking robot wherever possible to avoid the danger of contamination that a hydraulic system presents.
The arm automatically releases when the cow is done giving milk.
6. Data Collection
The robot notes animal weight, milk temperature, milking speed and when milking is unproductive.
The collar the cow wears is also essentially a “cow fit-bit”, monitoring how much she is moving around and how often she is ruminating. This information could give the farmer an idea of if the animal is in heat or under the weather.
Extensive data is gathered at each milking of each cow. This will help the farmers to prevent diseases, improve individual cow and overall herd health, and help us be better parents to the animals we care for. More data is always a good thing!
As for the farmer, aside from filling the hoppers, collecting the milk and maintenance, most of the work is supervising the system by means of a remote dashboard on a computer or other device and using the collected data for management.
At the end of each day, the system will notify the farmer of any “problem” cows (girls that didn’t get milked, gave very little, or cows that show signs of being unhealthy) and of our top performers. This helps us monitor what kind of attention our animals need.
Should the robot ever go down or get broken, the system sends the farmers an alert. This allows us to fix the problem quickly right when it happens – even at 3am.
So what’s the big deal?
This robot “employee” is there to milk 24/7 and for years to come. The cow can always except to be milked the same way and not have to deal with cold hands, a rough touch, or an under trained employee.
Extensive data is gathered at each milking of each cow. This will help the farmers to prevent diseases, administer better food, and improve the animal health status of the whole herd.
In free cow traffic, the cow decides when she eats, gets milked, socializes, or lies down, thereby improving the health and well‑being of the animal. By taking care of our cows and putting extra effort into cow comfort, we are able to extend cow health, milk production, milk quality, and lifetime milk production.
The farmers are still working very long days. But by eliminating the need to stop and drop everything to milk the cows at 4am and 4pm every day for 4 hours, we are able to operate our business more efficiently. When the crops need to come in we can focus all of our attention on that. When a cow needs extra attention, when a first time mom needs assistance with delivery, when the tractor breaks down, whatever it may be, we can commit our attention to that animal or project fully.
Comfortable cows make more milk, plain and simple. Before the robots, our herd average was 68 lbs. per cow per day. Now our girls produce 80 lbs. per cow per day. More milk means more money, which means we are able to have the capital to run a more efficient, more quality day on the farm.