In the first of two posts we look at the necessary steps for a smooth transition from conventional milking to robotic milking. Here we consider the issues that need to be addressed up to six months before startup.
Don’t expect an easy ride: the transition from conventional to robotic milking is a process that requires consistent work and methodical execution to prevent a negative impact on people and cows. But if you get the principles right you can enjoy the features of this fantastic technology.
Dairies can begin the transition process from different starting points. Today, around 60% of automatic milking system installations are newly-constructed. About 40% are retrofitted, where cows remain in the same environment before and after startup. Both scenarios require diverse management strategies.
New facilities can have a greater impact on the herd during the transition period due to major environmental changes. One simple strategy to ease the transition to new facilities could be to house the animals in the new barn while continuing to milk in the conventional parlour. On the other hand, with lower stress levels in familiar environments, retrofitted installations have a lower impact after startup on milk production and cow behaviour.
In these posts we’ll look at the six-month period leading up to startup – the most important part of the process. After all, this is the period when plans and strategies need to be defined. Ignoring crucial details and decision-making associated with startup planning will just result in undue stress and the potential for delayed transition.
Three things you need to do, six months before you start
- Educate the workforce. Working with robotics requires additional skills with regard to technology and herd management. Recognizing strengths and weaknesses within the management team is key to preparing for the new challenge.
- Get comfortable with computers. If you already work with herd management software, you’re probably good to go. Otherwise, if you don’t use computers much in your work, you’ll probably benefit from taking some classes. You don’t need to become a computer expert, but you do need to learn the basics. Experience will come with practice and time.
- Immerse yourself in the world of robotic milking. It’s a good idea to visit other dairies in order to learn how to run a successful robotic milking operation and to benchmark your success. Make it an objective to build a network of peers. In addition, read as much as you can and what about webinars, virtual libraries and the social media community? Do your homework by using multiple learning strategies and involving all the farm team members, including external advisors.
Read part 2 of this post: What to do with 2 months to go.
Francisco Rodriguez is a veterinarian and works for DeLaval as an adviser for automated milking systems in North America.