Automatic Milking Systems

Automatic milking systems can reduce the need for labour in most milking-related tasks and help dairy farmers significantly boost the efficiencies of their business by removing twice-a-day milking from their daily routine.

Improving milk production

In Australia, automatic milking systems (AMS) operate across a range of farming system types, including pasture based grazing with variable levels of supplementation and contained housing systems. There has been a significant increase in the integration of AMS into Australian dairy farms, irrespective of farming systems, driven by considerations related to workforce availability, improved technology and AMS accessibility.

As well as creating greater flexibility, Australian dairy farmers adopt AMS due to potential animal health advantages, workforce savings and to set reliable milk production expectations for their operation. There are three main types of AMS which are commercially available - single box systems, multi box systems and automatic rotary.

Single box systems

These enable one cow to be milked at a time by a dedicated robotic arm that performs all milk harvesting tasks. With each system able to milk between 55 to 70 cows, it is common for farmers to use between two and five single box system units depending on herd size.

Multi box systems

These have a single robotic arm which operates across more than one milking stall. These multi box systems can generally milk more cows per robotic arm, but fewer cows per milking stall.

Automatic rotary system

This has an internal, rotary herringbone platform, with cows facing outwards and the robots housed in the centre. The system can perform the task of teat-washing and drying, applying the milk cups and, cup removal, teat disinfection and cup flushing.

Other milking automation options which complement conventional systems include automatic cup removers, automated drafting, and automated mastitis detection systems that offer a significant reduction in labour requirements during milking. Automatic teatcup removal and mastitis detection is already a component of AMS systems.

Automatic milking

The challenge is to incorporate AMS into pasture-based systems while maintaining optimal grazing management and production targets. We all know the milking process is time consuming and labour intensive, but modern technologies that automate the process of milking, mean striking that balance is achievable.

Australian experience has shown that dairy farmers who do their homework prior to adopting AMS minimise any potential negative impacts on cow, herd or farm performance. If you are considering a switch to AMS, remember to have realistic expectations and ask whether you are:

  • Flexible and able to adapt to a new farming system?
  • Comfortable with new technologies?
  • Prepared to review online reports and develop strategies on individual cows requiring attention?
  • Comfortable leaving the AMS to operate alone?
  • Confident you have access to trained technical support personnel when needed?

Benefits of automatic milking

While AMS are suited to different herd sizes and dairy farming systems, most operations will require some modifications when making the change from conventional to AMS. While it may be possible to milk 70 cows per single AMS, experience has shown that a much smoother transition can be achieved by starting up with around 55 to 65 cows per AMS.

The key difference between an AMS and a conventional system is that pasture allocation needs to be more accurate. For example, if cows receive much more of their daily allowance than they should, they will be less willing to move off pasture and proceed through the AMS for milking.

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