In the second of our two posts examining the necessary steps for a smooth transition from conventional milking to robotic milking, we look at herd preparation.
Two months before startup is the time to put all your focus and effort on the herd. The essence of robotic milking is speed, so you need to consider this when selecting cows for an automatic milking system. There are three main criteria when finding a suitable animal: udder conformation, udder health, and feet and legs. Select cows with centrally-placed teats; avoid rear-crossed teats. And if there’s a possibility to select animals from a larger group, use the following five-step selection process to start with the ideal group of “robotic” cows.
- Identify the animals with the highest milk flow rates.
- From that group test and select the individuals that have low somatic cell counts and are negative to contagious mastitis pathogens.
- Evaluate udder conformation, especially rear teat placement.
- Make sure the cows have healthy feet and legs.
- If possible, group cows based on lactation number. Dedicated young and mature groups are ideal.
Evaluate your contagious mastitis screening programme. Once you’ve defined the final group of cows, the main objective is to ensure that every animal entering and being milked by the robot is free of contagious pathogens. Unfortunately, due to group management and dynamics, segregation of infected cows is not a viable option in automatic milking systems compared with conventional milking systems. It is strongly recommended that you run monthly bulk tank cultures and monitor cows individually.
Cows above 200,000 SCC should be cultured every other day for a week. If a cow has at least one sample positive to pathogens, such as Staph aureus, she is considered positive and a decision should be made. Your veterinarian’s involvement is critical in developing a milk quality plan.
Trim hooves now. All cows should visit the hoof trimmer between one and two months prior to startup, as well as receiving regular footbath treatment. Don’t wait until the last minute to trim hooves, as the combination of new concrete, stress factors and trimming procedures can lead to unwanted hoof issues.
20 days to startup: everyone ready?
Remove udder hair. This is a must for an automatic milking system. It should be a weekly or twice-weekly routine.
Accurately transfer your data. You should take time to build a new database or transfer data well in advance of starting up.
Develop your feeding plan during the training period. Although not every installation is able to have a feed-only period, it is highly recommended to feed cows through the robot (not milking) at least two weeks prior to the first milking. The amount to feed depends on cow traffic and the day of transition, ranging from 0.9 to 3.6 kilograms per cow per day. After one week it is possible to combine feeding with spraying teats and robotic arm movements. Combining the two will motivate cows to visit the robot and acclimatize them to the new sounds and surroundings.
Begin your startup of the system on the default settings. The entire system must be in safe mode in preparation for startup, from milking procedure to feeding and general management settings. With settings placed to give maximum levels of protection for your herd, the focus can turn to proper herd management basics – including clean bedding, frequent feeding and feed push-up, and training/fetching of overdue and new cows.
By turning this transition plan from conventional to robotic milking into reality and remembering the focus on team communication for optimum success, you should be ready to go on this exciting journey. Good luck.
Francisco Rodriguez is a veterinarian and works for DeLaval as an adviser for automated milking systems in North America.