“Whenever I meet a robotics project leader, I always start by talking about cows. If the tool works for the cows, it also works for the farmer. When the robot is well-situated in the barn, farmers don’t have to go and search for their animals.”
Thinking like a cow means thinking like a gregarious animal that doesn’t like being far away from its herd or walking to the other end of the barn. Cows will be more comfortable being milked if the robot is in the middle of the barn and they can easily see their fellow animals. “Our rear-milking robots provide cows with a clear view to their right and left.” Cows prefer being milked with milking arms that are less visible, quieter and not too distracting. Rear milking meets all these criteria. Udder preparation is also an important point: under what conditions and for how long is the cow’s udder stimulated before milking?
You also have to think “like a dominated cow” or “like a cow lactating for the first time”: can they easily access the robot; will they feel comfortable in their environment? Reducing the stress of the herd means less adrenaline, more oxytocin, and therefore more milk. “The cows’ success is also the farmer’s success.”
Whenever I meet a robotics project leader, I always start by talking about cows. If the tool works for the cows, it also works for the farmer. When the robot is well-situated in the barn, farmers don’t have to go and search for their animals.
Arnaud Dubosc - Robotermanager bei BouMatic
Farmers need to sort their cows. The sorting process can be simple (authorise access to the pasture afterwards or not), or more complex (separating and putting through the more fragile cows first, sorting the cows that are to be inseminated or that are ready to calve, sending a lot for a hoofbath...).
When choosing the robot and where to position it in the barn, it’s important to study the different options that the doors on the robot, or the additional sorting doors, offer and to evaluate the flexibility and speed of installation. “When we start researching a robotics project, we ask the farmer to share their specifications and we put together a 3D plan so that we can explore all the different circulation options.”
In terms of operational planning, it’s important to look at the different options available for accessing the udders manually in order to dry off the udders, for example. With a rear milking system, the arms can be removed easily and placed out of reach of the animal, and it’s easier for the farmer to access the udder.
Another practical aspect: the space that the system takes up. Does a specific machine room need building for the robot? Will it take up a lot of space? “We deliver a plug-and-play tool that is ready to use straight away. The milking area and machine room are delivered together – everything is integrated. All we need are the ducts to run electricity, water, air, feed, milk and an internet cable through it.”
As cows are infinitely more sensitive to currents than humans are, it’s recommended to have a geobiologist evaluate the planned robot installation site around 6 months before the installation. If there are any electrical problems, solutions can be found to remove the electrical charge (grounding, spacing the wires...). If this isn’t possible, another site will need to be considered. A repeat evaluation is recommended around one and a half months after the robot has been started up.
Before the implementation, and throughout the first year of using the robot, a very precise nutritional monitoring process needs to be put in place to evaluate the quantities of feed and concentrate consumed and the variations in costs brought about by robotic milking.
In the same vein, it’s also a good idea for the farmer to review the health of their cows’ hoofs and the sanitary quality of the milk with their vet. While installing a robot does not “create” any health problems, it can amplify some existing issues.