Is Milk-first pre-selection the right choice when planning your Robotic Milking facility?

This cow traffic system is designed to increase robot capacity and labor efficiency. In this system a selection gate is used to guide and pre-select cows for milking. The gate’s software determines whether or not a cow has permission to milk based on her expected yield, hours since last milking, lactation number and stage of lactation. This ensures that when a cow visits the robot she will be milked or diverted – eliminating refusals and increasing station capacity.

Cows are pre-selected on their way from the stalls to the feedbunk. If they have milking permissions, they will enter the commitment pen to go through the robot; without milking permissions, they can go eat. This system is very popular in the U.S, and creating a lot of interest inEastern Europe, mainly due to their shared management and feeding practices for medium to large herds.

The following graph explains the general concept of a Milk-first pre-selection cow traffic system.

  1. Robot room
  2. Fetch pen
  3. Special needs area with straw pack
  4. Cow brush
  5. Water trough
  6. Free stall
  7. Sorting gates for special needs or feed bunk
  8. Commitment pen
  9. Selection gate
  10. One way gate
  11. Feed alley
  12. Drive through feed lane

Your goal as a dairyman and robotic milking operator should be to strike the right balance between cow motivation and herd management. If you are considering Milk First as an alternative when planning a new barn or remodeling, I strongly recommend evaluating the following variables:

Feeding strategy: What differentiates this option from the other cow traffic scenarios is its greater flexibility regarding feeding strategies. The milk-first pre-selection system works with PMR feeding strategies requiring a minimum of only 20 percent average grain consumption (dry matter basis) per cow per day delivered through the robot. The cow’s main motivator is the PMR she will get at the feedbunk.

Producers choose this kind of system because it is a familiar feed management strategy and also costs less if mixing grain grown on the same farm. Most farms apply the PMR strategy with minimum amounts of grain delivered through the robot (on average 4 lbs per cow per day) and are still able to reach ideal milking frequencies. It’s also possible to feed more grain at the robot or external feeding stations if desired.

Capacity: By avoiding refusals, pre-selection can increase the number of daily milkings per robot by making better usage of milking permissions and consequently increasing stall efficiency. This system generally handles 55 to 75 cows per robot.

Labor Efficiency: With pre-selection, daily fetch rates are on average only one to five percent of the herd.

Initial investment: Adding selection gates, one-way gates and fencing for the commitment pen increases the initial investment. It’s therefore important to evaluate return on investment.

Control vs. freedom: With one-way and selection gates, you can determine how often a cow enters the commitment pen, feed lane and stall area. You can also control the milking intervals. This traffic scenario is all about creating a pattern, which requires knowledge of the system and devices to ensure the cows flow and move with freedom.

Evaluating Milk-first Pre-selection as an option means considering how these herd management variables match your specific needs. Every system has its trade offs, pick your positive and negative points and make the balance of what is better for your dairy. Remember: your dairy facility should suit your management philosophy and lifestyle – not the other way around.

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Francisco Rodriguez

About Francisco Rodriguez

Doctor in Veterinary Medicine and Strategic Marketing Management Specialist. Dairy entrepreneur and Holstein Breeder, born and raised between dairy cows and genetic proofs. Based in the heart of the Dairy industry, Madison, Wisconsin. Expert in Robotic Milking and precision dairy management, a whole life dedicated to milk production motivated by passion with a purpose. Francisco is on twitter as @FranciscoJRV.
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