The switch from a parlour to milking robot led to both less and lighter work
On June 1st 2010 Päivi and Juhani Havimäki from Kurikka in Finland installed a new milking robot in their old free stall barn. They had heard from some people that "the workload is not reduced when switching to a milking robot", but that is not true for the Havamäki farm. According to Päivi and Juhani the amount of work is clearly reduced. In addition, they think working with a milking robot is easier and has become more interesting.
There are other benefits as well. Päivi and Juhani say that with the removal of the old milking parlour, they could expand with 13 cubicles without having to move the outer walls. In front of the robot there is plenty of room, and the free cow traffic works well and even the lower rank heifers gets their turn.
”Currently we have no cow that needs to be fetched for milking. The only exceptions are cows in heat or those that are injured, they sometimes need to be helped to the robot. Also, the system tells us when a cow is in heat, even when we haven’t noticed anything ourselves.”
The Havimäkis point out some misconceptions associated with robotic milking. For example, the somatic cell count has stayed at 140,000, the same as when they were milking in a conventional milking parlor. They had a temporary jump to 200 000 at one stage, but it quickly fell back to the previous level. Total bacteria has stayed at a level of 4000-8000. There has been no need to cull any cows, all of them are milked in the robot.
”To get the cows used to robotic milking was a similar effort to that of a transition from stanchion barn to a milking parlor”, says the Havimäkis.
In their case the switch required active assistance during four days. The most important thing was to get the cows used to not being milked at regular times.
The heifers adopted robotic milking almost easier than the older cows. On average, the transition takes a few days and maximum one week. There is only one heifer that has been so temperamental that she needs a kick protection (NonKick) at milking.
The Havimäkis particularly appreciates that they now have plenty of time to observe their cows' behavior. And the cows’ average yield has risen from 8850 kg to 9570 kg in less than a year.
Room for improvement
But there is always room for improvement, as every milk producer surely knows. In Havimäki’s herd the conception rate is not the best, it has been necessary with 2.2 inseminations per pregnancy. The number of calvings needs to increase. Another thing that has affected the situation negatively is that only two of the latest nineteen calves have been females.
Juhani Havamäki thinks that they need to put more attention to the feed mix. A rail mixer distributes feed six times a day. The feeding is adjusted so that the proportion of concentrate is always kept constant. Silage is increased or decreased so that the cows clean the feed area once a day. In general, this happens late night/early morning.
They currently have fifty milking cows and an average of 2.7 milkings per cow per day. The milking robot has the capacity for another 45 milkings, so they want to fill the barn cubicles as soon as possible.
Juhani Havimäki says that the transition to the milking robot has cost EUR 180 000 excl. VAT. He thinks this is a reasonable investment in relation to the improvements it has brought about: The number of cubicles has increased by 13 places. In addition to the new VMS milking robot and cooling tank, the investment includes demolition and construction, interior and cubicle beds.
They were also granted an investment subsidy of 25% before taxes. At the time when they solicited the subsidy, the requirement was that the production increase should be at least 20%. In Havimäki’s case this was easily met. The requirement has now changed, and at the moment the requirement is that the barn technology has changed significantly. They were also granted 70% interest subsidy loans.
The Havamäkis have seen a lot of positive results in their herd, and the change from a milking parlor to a robot has been a profitable investment.