Robotic Milking Facility
The Robotic Milking Facility is the first livestock building in the U.S. to receive Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification; receiving Silver Level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in spring 2010. The LEED certification process encourages practices that promote energy conservation, water use efficiency, improved indoor environmental quality, and natural resource stewardship in six general categories during and after construction. These categories include sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovations and design. Achieving LEED certification for the Pasture Dairy Barn allows KBS to demonstrate its own commitment to sustainability and ways that farmers can conserve natural resources and reduce costs. Several practices during its design and construction helped the Robotic Milking Facility receive LEED certification; these practices included:
- Energy Conservation - All LEED certified buildings must be at least 15% more energy efficient than building codes dictates. The dairy barn exceeded this requirement by including practices that enable the facility to be 38% more energy efficient than industry standards of 2009.
- Construction Waste Recycling - Over 11 tons of concrete, wood, and metal were recycled or redirected to prevent them from going into a landfill. Additionally, concrete waste was used as the base for the parking area and driveway to the barn.
- Long-term Recycling - A recycling plan is required for all LEED certified buildings to reduce the amount of paper, plastic, and other wastes going to landfills.
- Use of Regional Materials - Over 34% of construction materials were recovered, harvested, or manufactured within 500 miles of Hickory Corners Michigan.
- Protecting the Ozone Layer - The use of refrigerant management systems that do not use Ozone depleting Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) or Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) are required for all LEED certified buildings.
- Internal Air Quality- Paints, sealants, and adhesives used during construction were selected from a LEED approved list of compounds producing a low level of volatile organic compounds (VOC).
- A Green Housekeeping Policy was developed at the dairy to reduce the exposure of building occupants and maintenance personnel to potentially hazardous chemical contaminants.
- Working with LEED Accredited Professionals - To ensure that LEED appropriate design and construction principles were included in the dairy barn the design team (farm staff, other MSU and KBS staff, and building designer) worked closely with LEED Accredited Professionals throughout all phases of the design and construction process.
Design and construction practices to achieve LEED certification for the KBS Pasture Dairy Barn were not without additional costs. LEED certification is typically reported to increase project costs by 2.5 to 11% (or more), depending on the size of the project, certification level, and types of practices included. Achievement of LEED certification for the KBS pasture dairy barn increased project costs by approximately 4.5%, but the hope is that the energy efficient design and green building principals at the dairy barn will return that money to the dairy over time through lower operating costs.
2009 Grand opening and ribbon Cutting for pasture-based dairy center at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Research Station at Hickory Corners, Michigan.
- The free stall barn (and herd) is split in half and have all the same equipment. The automatic sidewall curtain system raises or lowers to regulate temperature, the design maximizes the use of natural sunlight and is a resource conservation feature.
- Double chamber waterbed mattresses provide comfort for cows while inside the barn and promote cow health and well-being. Each bed contains approximately 13 gallons of water and helps save on bedding costs throughout the year.
- Cow behavior is continuously monitored using surveillance cameras in the barn. There are 15 video cameras located in the barn.
- The automatic Alley Scraper periodically moves through the barn scraping manure from the barn. The manure is moved into a pit and pumped underground to a lined manure lagoon. Manure is then taken from the manure lagoon and is spread onto crop fields through a manure spreader.
- The automatic Cosmix feeder provides concentrate feed for the cows and records accurate information about feed intake for each cow. Feeders can be used to balance the ration for low and high yielding cows, and allows regular concentrate feeding.
- Automatic cow brushes help with the flow of cows through the robot by tempting dominant cows to the back of the barn. This offers lower ranking animals have an opportunity to go through the robotic milker. The brushes also clean cows by removing loose hair and dirt.
- Access to pasture from the barn is controlled by the automatic milking system via automatic sorting gates. Sorting gates are programmed to “grant exits” based on the programmed milking interval of each cow. Two-way split cow lane-ways are used to control voluntary traffic between pastures and the robotic milking barn.
- The GPS records the cow’s location movements and grazing activity every five minutes to determine how foraging behavior of cows react and adapt to variations in climate.
- A cannula is a window-like device that allows access to the rumen for extensive research and analysis of the digestive system of cows, that otherwise could not taken place with out it.
- Greenfeed modules for automatic sampling and quantification of animal gas emissions have been retrofitted to the milking stalls. The Gas Analyzer Located in the front of the robot distributes pellets and, each animal is identified by a radio frequency identification system (RFID). A fan draws air over the animal’s head and past its nose and mouth into a specially designed manifold and air handling system to measure Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4) emissions every six seconds to observe changes in emissions produced from the different pasture types.
The Robotic Milking Process
The automatic milking system collects detailed data of cows body weight, milk yield, milking time, preparation time, rumination time, activity, heat probability, milk color and milk conductivity.
- Each cow has an electronic tag on her collar which allows the robot to identify and organize production and health records for individual animals. Collars also contain an activity monitor for heat detection (breeding management) and rumination sensor for monitoring rumen function (indication of digestive system health).
- As a cow enters the robot, her tag is read and the robot determines if she is due for milking. If a cow is not due for milking the front gate opens and the cow exits the robot. If she is due for milking the gate closes, a feed reward is provided, and the mechanical arm moves into place to begin the milking process.
- Before milking, an orange and white brush cleans the udder to remove dirt and other materials that might contaminate the milk. The brush also stimulates the cow to ‘let down’ her milk.
- Following cleaning, the robots lasers locate each of the cow’s teats and the teat cups are attached.
- As milk flows to the collection jar it is analyzed for quality using colorimetric and conductivity sensors. If the milk from an individual cow is not fit for human consumption (for example, the cow is being treated with antibiotics for an infection) the robot discards that milk and the milk jar is washed to prevent contaminating milk from other cows.
- Sensors measure milk flow from each quarter of the cow’s udder and determine when milking is complete. When milk flow from one quarter of the udder decreases that teat cup disconnects from the cow, while the other quarters continue to be milked. Individual sensors for each quarter ensure that the cow is neither over nor under milked. Following milking, the udder is sprayed with disinfectant and the cow is released.
- Data collected by the robot can be accessed at the monitor on the robot or from any farm computer or wireless device. Information can be viewed for individual animals, groups of animals, or the entire herd. The farm staff uses this information to make management decisions that ensure the health and productivity of the herd is maintained.
- The robot washes itself between each cow and shuts down two times a day for a more thorough cleaning to ensure sanitary milk collection. On average, cows are milked 2.5 times per day, with some cows able to be milked up to six times per day. Each robot can milk up to 60 cows in the winter or 85 cows when on pasture..
- After the cow has finished the milking process, the milk is pumped from the small, clear tank on the robot to the large bulk tanks across the room. Milk is almost 87% water, milk has several other components. On average, whole milk has 3.5% fat, 3.1% protein, 4.9% lactose (milk sugar) and 0.7% minerals.
- The large bulk tank can hold 3,000 gallons of milk and the smaller tank can hold 80 gallons of milk. The milk is filtered to remove any debris and is immediately cooled to 36-38⁰F. The filtration and cooling of the milk are the only processes that occur on the farm. Two bulk tanks are needed because the robotic milking system never shuts down. The milk needs a place to be stored while the milk truck picks up the milk and the large bulk tank is cleaned.
- The milk is picked up from the farm every other day and is shipped through a local cooperative, Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA). In the winnter the milk is sent to the Prairie Farms milk processing plant in Battle Creek and combined with milk from other farms in the area.
Dr. Santiago Utsumi, is the faculty coordinator of this facility. One dairy manager, two full-time staff and two part-time staff are responsible for management activities at the dairy. In addition to the Pasture Dairy Barn there are several other barns and buildings on the farm to store feed and equipment and house animals during the winter months.