Dairy Robotic Milking Systems – What are the Economics?

More than 35,000 robotic milking systems (RMS) components are functional on dairy farms across the globe. Dairy producers mainly install milking robots to enhance their lifestyle and grow without employing additional labour. Here, experts at Fullwood Packo explain further.

What Drives Robot Profitability?

Labour savings, milk production per robot per day, milk produced per cow, and useful life duration are the key factors affecting the profitability of robotic milking systems. The disadvantage is that it comes with a capital investment of £116,000 to £155,000 per robot with the capability of milking 50 to70 cows per unit. The majority of historical data indicates that milking robots are less profitable when compared to traditional milking systems. Advances in the field of robotic tech, enhanced management skills, and increased labour costs may alter this perspective.

Labour Efficiency

USDA (2016) reports suggest that livestock workers’ salaries grew by 3% in 2014 and 4% in 2015. RMS labour savings differ. Research has given an account ranging from no savings to 29% in savings with RMS. The design of the barn and its management may describe much of this variance. Farm Management Records (Finbin, 2016) indicate that RMS farms in Upper Midwest averaged 2.2 million lb of milk for every full-time worker compared to 1.5 million lb for identical herds that are getting milked in parlours.

Another factor impacting the decision to install robots is the availability of labourers to milk cows in the future. A survey conducted in 2014 showed that 51% of farm labour was largely immigrant labour (Adcock et al., 2015). The availability of immigrant workers in the future may be diminished if fewer foreign workers opt to work on farms or if stringent immigration regulations are passed.

Milk Production Change when Transitioning to Robots

The main driving force for milk production change with RMS is the change in the frequency of milking. de Koning (2010) suggested that robotic hers recorded increases in production of 5 to 10% compared to milking 2x, but production reduced 5 to 10% compared to milking 3x. In the survey we conducted, the average RMS milking frequency was 2.8, ranging from 2.4 to 3.2. If you want to optimise our efficacy, the objective is having a high-level milking frequency in the early lactation stages and reduced milking frequency in the advanced lactation stages. The main factors affecting herd average and individual cow milking frequency are
count of cows per unit.

Milking Authorisation Settings

  • Palatability and Robot box feed and partially mixed ration quality;
  • Robot downtime (time robot isn’t being used);
  • Cow fetching policy;
  • Waking distance and barn design (a key factor for herds);
  • Traditional parlour systems compared to robotic milking systems.

Bijl et al. (2007) associated the economic performance of Dutch farms utilising RMS to match traditional farms milking 2X closely. As a result of increased costs for the RMS, traditional farms proved to be more feasible. But the labour needs were 29% lower on these farms, which led to increased milk production and income per worker. The conclusion was that an RMS investment enables farms to produce more milk using fewer workers and milk more cows.

Milk Per Robot

Maximising daily milk production per robot is essential in optimising profit. Look at it this way: a robot system that uses 2% annual wage inflation and a 20-year lifespan, the overall annual income rises to approximately $4,100 for each 500 lb rise in daily milk production for each robot. Some American farms are currently harvesting an excess of 6,000 lb of milk per robot consistently every day. This is attained by a mixture of high daily milk production per cow and increased cow numbers per robot (usually more than 60). The key considerations in achieving this are:

  • Reduced box time for each cow;
  • RMS in top-notch working condition;
  • Milking authorisation settings and strategies that get cows milked at the right times.
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