Milking robots: introduction
Milking robots are growing in popularity on dairy farms worldwide.
Robotic milking, or automatic milking systems (AMS) implies that the cow more or less chooses when she will be milked. With robotic milking, the cow can be milked at any point during the day, also during the night. Changing the milking system in the milking parlor requires a transition period for both the farmer and the dairy cows.
The most famous companies and brands (models) for milking robots are probably these ones:
- Lely Astronaut, A3/A4,
- DeLaval VMS (VMS refers to voluntary milking),
- Boumatic MR-S1
- Fullwood Merlin,
- SAC (SA Christensen) Futureline
Feel free to contact us with your brand suggestion.
Sometimes we still hear the idea that via milking robots, everything will be automated and no attention should be paid to the dairy cows at all. As we heard over and again, such attitude can lead to illnesses spreading in the herd and decreasing milk yields, followed by lower milk revenues, sometimes aggravated by lower milk quality and according penalties in case of high somatic cell counts (SCC; subclinical and clinical mastitis). Longevity will usually suffer as well. Click here for a short introduction to somatic cell count, milk quality and milk yield, mastitis and udder health.
Animal health, milk composition and milk quality, mastitis and udder health
What’s going on with your dairy cows, how likely is it that they will have a good milk yield (production) and milk quality (somatic cells, fat, protein and solid content levels) in near and mid-term (future)?
How likely is it that the cow feeding has to be changed for a specific animal in the herd on the dairy farm? Any metabolic issues? Acidosis or ketosis? How is the protein and fat content level compared to your targets? Any treatment required with antibiotics? Early dry-off? Reproduction and breeding planning?
And what about automatically diverting low quality milk (high somatic cells or other problem) into a separate bulk milk tank?
Know what’s going on, any time, any where.
We are performing field tests on various robot models, with the new Ekomilk Horizon Essential and AMP system (July-December 2017). Click here for an introduction to Ekomilk Horizon and AMP.
The system will be available from around Mars 2018 (exact timing depends on your region). The Ekomilk-AMP system operates fully autonomously and results, warnings and critical errors are sent over SMS, email and an online app (you can configure which notifications you get and how). Every analysis costs around $0.04 and accuracy figures compared to official lab results are (very) high. Click here for examples about realistic correlation coefficients for SCC, fat, protein and solid content.
How does it work?
First put your robot into “Sampling” (control, Shuttle) mode, by following the procedures prescribed by your robot manufacturer (first pause the robot etc). Instead of connecting the Shuttle or any other brand like Ori Collector or VMS sampler, Ekomilk will be connected. More accurately: Instead of the Shuttle (including its internal “spoon” or sampling head), the special electronic sample cup (like an electronic vial) of Ekomilk Horizon for milking robots, will be connected to the milk sampling line of the robot. This should work with all models of milking robots which work with the ORI Collector (ORI Sampler for milking robots) and which can create a certain milk sample volume without needing external components. (for instance in the case of GEA robots, an extra adaptor kit could be needed. Please refer to the connection of the ORI Collector to understand what is needed for your robot. From Q4 2017, there will also be a partnership program which might allow you to test Ekomilk-AMP on your robot under advantageous conditions. Please contact us for more info.
For Ekomilk-AMP, minimum 10ml is needed but between 30ml and 60ml is recommended for better accuracy. Please use the same milk sample tube as provided with your Shuttle (Ori Collector, VMS sampler) to connect your robot to the Ekomilk electronic sample cup. Please follow the same connection procedure and cleaning procedure for the sampling tube as prescribed by your Shuttle (Ori Collector, VMS sampler). The Ekomilk-AMP system does not need the air pressure. Please check with your robot supplier whether you can leave the air pressure outlet unused during sampling. If any doubts, please contact us or your robot supplier.
Photo of Ekomilk-AMP for robotic milking (AMS, VMS)
Please find here an indicative photo simulation of Ekomilk next to an old milking robot.
In yellow you can see the (here symbolic) milk tube which connects Ekomilk-AMP with the milking robot. This tube should be the same official type (ICAR approved) as used with the Shuttle or ORI sampler (ICAR approved). On the above image, indicated in white colour on the Ekomilk, there is a special digital sample cup. This special “robot” cup contains sensors to monitor the connection between milking robot and Ekomilk. Together with this cup comes also a detection and rinsing mechanism which allows automatic regular rinsing of the system , especially at the end of the day or after longer time intervals. The robot version of Ekomilk-AMP includes an extra package which includes all these essential components (without, the Ekomilk-AMP system will not be able to work automatically with the robot).
Maintenance and repair
There is a special version of the online remote error diagnostics AMP module and the Ekomilk AMP maintenance module included with each milking robot version of Ekomilk Horizon. These modules will monitor both your robot connection to Ekomilk-AMP and your Ekomilk instrument continuously. You can receive notifications via SMS, email and app when an error has to be solved or when maintenance is required.
The robot (AMS, VMS) version of Ekomilk Horizon Essential (end-user mature prototype) can be shipped from March 2018. Orders can be placed from January 2018. Ekomilk Horizon Essential only measures SCC (somatic cell count).
From Q2 2018, the version of Ekomilk Horizon Unlimited for robotic milking (end-user mature prototype) will also be available and will measure SCC (>40 000 cells/ml), fat, protein and total solids content besides providing acidosis and ketosis indicators. The measurement accuracy of Ekomilk Horizon Unlimited is higher than Ekomilk Horizon Essential for all parameters (milk ingredients, components) measured because a multitude of parameters (+8 sensors) are combined online.
R&D partnership program
Ekomilk& keep adding features and improving accuracy of milk analysis thanks for AI (self learning algorithms).
For robots, a partnership program will be launched to develop a milk sampler which works in “real-time”, during the milking, without needing the Shuttle (control, sampling) mode (which causes delays). We warmly invite all questions and suggestions.
Observations of milking robots (voluntary milking systems, VMS) in practice
Milking robots are also called “voluntary milking systems (VMS)”. I noticed that in practice, such “voluntary” system also poses challenges, especially during the first weeks of introducing the new milking system on the farm. The herd has to adapt and not every individual (dairy cow) is as flexible. I have seen cows which cannot get enough from the new milk box and want (voluntary) to stay in it for quite some time – meanwhile blocking access for other cows who truly want to be milked (voluntary). Maybe that specific milking robot was too easily distributing that lovely easily palatable cow feed (the RFID transponder could maybe block cow feed distribution once the same cow comes in within a short interval). Also at the entry gate of the voluntary milking system, some cows get (voluntary) stuck, requiring intervention of the dairy farm staff. Probably there are small, transitional problems which also depend on cow characters.
An aspect of differentiation between voluntary milking system is the robotic arm (or robot arm). The robot arm provides the core of the automation of a milking robot. More observations soon.