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). The milk is sent to the Prairie Farms milk processing plant in Battle Creek and combined with milk from other farms in the area.