Successful robotic milking doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can easily be achieved with proper preparation and management strategies. If you’re considering buying a milking robot or already have, you may not be sure what all the startup will entail. Luckily, our Farm Management Support (FMS) team of local and certified advisers has the process down to a science.
Preparation for startup is key to experiencing success in robotic milking. This consists of not only making sure your cows are healthy, but developing your robot feed strategy, inputting animal data into the T4C herd management system and training the herd. Below are the details of the four areas you need to focus on to effectively prepare for the startup.
- Cow preparation – it is important that your herd is healthy BEFORE the switch to robotic milking in order to make the transition, startup and training process as smooth as possible. This includes hoof trimming (two months before startup), udder health (several months before startup) and udder and tail preparation (the week before startup and every 8-10 weeks after).
- Feeding – it is essential that cows are drawn to the robot to make the training process easier. This is done through positive reinforcement; if they get milked, they get rewarded with good feed! It’s important to develop the right feed strategy prior to startup so when that day comes, everything is ready. There are a few guidelines for a proper feed strategy. Contact your local Lely Center for more information to share with your nutritionist.
- Data entry – animal data needs to be entered in the T4C management software at least three weeks before startup day. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the software.
- Training cows – startup is significantly easier if the cows are trained in the robot before startup. This means that the cows will receive feed in the robot and the arm will move around in the box underneath the cow, but won’t touch them. The idea is to allow her to get used to the sound that the arm makes. A training period of about a week seems to work well, but even 24 to 48 hours can help ease the stress levels of the animals during their first few milkings.
“We try to do as much with the cows beforehand to give them a taste of the process before the chaos begins,” said Stacie De Groot, Lely Sales Associate at Gorter’s Clay and Dairy Equipment, Inc. “If they’re already in the barn, we open up the gates and walk cows through one or two times. That way, the cows are used to the box and the pellets. When the first day of startup comes around, they aren’t paying attention to the robot arm coming underneath them the very first time because they’re busy eating. Keeping them calm, not spooked, will result in faster attaching of the arm that first day. The more still the cow is, the smoother the process will go.”
It is important to note that it’s not always possible to have the cows visit the robot for training until the day of startup if you are building a new barn for the robots. You can still help prepare your cows for the event by adjusting the TMR ration in the old barn in the weeks before startup to the new PMR ration and top-dress this PMR with the pellets at the bunk. The cows can then get to know and like the pellets and will recognize the treat during their first visit to the robot.