Wild view of dairy cows being milked
Flood Brothers Farm Clinton, Maine
Automatic milking — Common practice on dairy farms
In this article an overview of historical development of automatic milking, as well as the current situation and perceived challenges and opportunities for future development are discussed.
Since the first commercial systems appeared in 1992, automatic milking systems (AM-systems) have been installed at an increasing rate. No other new technology since the introduction of the milking machine, has aroused so much interest and expectations among dairy farmers and the periphery. Reduced labor, a better social life for dairy farm families and increased milk yields due to more frequent milking are generally recognized as important benefits of automatic milking. Without doubt automatic milking changes many aspects of farm management since both the nature and organization of labor is altered. Manual labor is partly replaced by management and control, and the presence of the operator at regular milking times is no longer required. Visual control on cow and udder health at milking is, at least partly, taken over by automatic systems. Facilities for teat cleaning and separation of abnormal milk are incorporated into the automatic system and several adaptations are needed to accommodate continuous milking. Cow management including routing within the barn, the opportunity for grazing and the use of total mixed rations is altered. A high level of management and realistic expectations are essential to successful adoption of automatic milking. Results from commercial farms indicate, that milk quality is somewhat negatively affected, although bacterial counts and somatic cell counts remain well below penalty levels. In terms of quality control, AM-systems offer extra means to assure milk quality and food safety. No adverse effects of the transition have been found for body condition, lameness or teat condition. Automatic milking systems require a higher investment than conventional milking systems. However increased milk yields and reduced labor requirements may lead to a decrease in the fixed costs per kg milk. In recent years the first mobile automatic milking systems appeared on dairy farms in Denmark and The Netherlands. Automatic milking has gained widespread acceptance and is now estimated to be in use on more than 8000 farms in over 25 countries worldwide.