Milking robots and effluent management

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All milking systems, whether they be automatic (AMS) or conventional involve managing the effluent that collects on concrete areas at the dairy. Because an AMS involves voluntary movement of cows, there are some small differences in the way effluent collects at the dairy. Future Dairy's AMS research leader, Dr Kendra Kerrisk, outlines some of the issues to consider.

"In an AMS, cows bring themselves to the dairy for milking and take themselves back to the paddock," Dr Kerrisk said.

An AMS operates almost 24 hours a day with small numbers of cows are being milked at most times of the day and night. This is quite different to a conventional dairy where the entire herd comes to the dairy twice a day for milking.

Yard washing

With AMS there are almost always cows at the dairy which results in the yard being soiled most of the time.

"You will need to develop a system that works under these conditions. Yard washing at most automatic milking systems is done twice a day," Dr Kerrisk said.

"A water-blaster/gerni will become your best friend. But the job will be easier if you install easily cleanable surfaces. Also consider, tipper drums or automatic flood washing to keep the manure wet and from building up during periods between yard washing."

Effluent load Effluent management at any dairy depends on effluent load.

"To date there is no evidence that AMS dairies collect any more or less solid effluent," said Dr Kerrisk.

With an AMS the amount of solid effluent captured on concrete areas of the dairy andsurrounds depends on the average time each cow spends in that area each day. This is affected by milking frequency, average waiting time and whether there is a feeding area at the dairy.

Milking frequency refers to the number of times a day the ‘herd' is milked. In an AMS some managers plan for cows to be milked more than twice a day (especially for cows in early lactation) to encourage higher levels of milk production.

"If the milking frequency is more than twice a day, then the cows will spend more time at the dairy yard so we'd expect an associated increase in effluent load."

 The average waiting time depends on the ratio of cows to robots, cows' motivation level to move through the dairy and the distribution of cow traffic throughout a 24-hour period.

"The effluent load is likely to be higher when there's more cows waiting for longer at the yard."

If large groups of cows move to the dairy at the same time, then the average waiting time will be much more than in a management system that results in a more steady stream of cows to the dairy across the day and night.

 If there is a post-milking area with individual cow feeding stations and/or a feedpad then the amount of time the cows spend at the feeding area will affect the effluent load. The rate of feeding will affect the time spent at the feeding area, and this is likely to change throughout the year.