Ro­bot dairy cre­ates new milk­ing era

Univer­sity’s $2.4 mil­lion Dookie milk­ing fa­cil­ity of­fers fresh farmer chal­lenges

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - Front Page - BY JODIE FLEM­ING jflem­ing@ne­

DAIRY farm­ers may have been ex­cited by the in­ven­tion of a ro­botic dairy, putting an end to the loathed 4am milk­ing job, but they didn’t an­tic­i­pate the phone calls that the ro­bot can make at any time of the day.

Ac­cord­ing to Univer­sity of Mel­bourne’s Ro­botic Dookie Dairy farm as­sis­tant Ge­off Wil­helms the ro­bots are “very de­mand­ing”.

“The 4am milk­ing is over, that is un­less you re­ceive a phone call from the ro­bot send­ing you a mes­sage about some­thing,” Mr Wil­helms said.

“I have to get here just be­fore 7 am be­cause the ro­bot want sone of its fil­ters changed, and then it wants the other changed just af­ter 7am.

“It will send me the mes­sage about half an hour be­fore its’ due, so I’ll be driv­ing to work and the ro­bot will ring me to say I have half an hour to change the milk fil­ter.

“Like this morn­ing, the last three cows were com­ing through and the ro­bot sent me a mes­sage to say that the teat spray was get­ting low and that I had to change the drums.

“If the clean­ing de­ter­gents get low it sends a mes­sage.

“If some­thing se­ri­ous goes wrong you will get a phone call at 2am to say that the sys­tem has crashed.”

Mr Wil­helms is cur­rently run­ning the brand new, $2.4 mil­lion state-of-the-art up­graded ro­botic dairy fa­cil­ity at Dookie which was re­cently opened by Mem­ber for Shep­par­ton, Jeanette Pow­ell.

The Ro­botic Dookie Dairy fa­cil­ity con­sists of ro­botic milk­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, cut­ting edge so­lar panel ca­pac­ity, a milk­ing shed and feed­ing sys­tems with ca­pac­ity for 180 cows.

The Ro­botic Dookie Dairy im­prove­ments are a part of a $5 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the univer­sity’s Dookie farm, in part­ner­ship with Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Vic­to­ria – with $2.4 mil­lion al­lo­cated to the dairy – to en­sure the greater Dookie cam­pus re­mains a leading agri­cul­tural ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity in Vic­to­ria.

The Vic­to­rian Govern­ment has con­trib­uted $2.5 mil­lion to­wards the over­all project.

The in­vest­ment is also to sup­port re­search on op­ti­mis­ing an­i­mal nu­tri­tion, max­imis­ing wel­fare, mod­i­fy­ing be­hav­ior and stock man­age­ment and se­cur­ing wa­ter ef­fi­cien­cies in op­er­a­tions.

Dookie cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tion man­ager Bill O’Con­nor said that ro­bot­ics in milk­ing was a new era for the Vic­to­rian dairy in­dus­try.

“We de­mol­ished the pre­vi­ous dairy which was a her­ring­bone and the sheds as­so­ci­ated with that and started from scratch,” he said.

“So this is a brand new ro­botic fa­cil­ity and there are only about 20 op­er­at­ing in­Aus­tralia at the mo­ment.

“It’s re­ally cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy and there are only three in north­ern Vic­to­ria.

Each ro­bot will milk ap­prox­i­mately 60 cows per day, but at present the Dookie Dairy only has 38 cows go­ing through the sys­tem to al­low both staff and the cows to ease into the tech­nol­ogy and to “elim­i­nate any of the bugs”.

It is a vol­un­tary milk­ing sys­tem, where the cows vol­un­teer them­selves up to come into the ro­bots to be milked.

“They are like kids, they are at­tracted by the food, so they get fed in the bale and they get fresh pas­ture on the other side of the dairy, so they come to the dairy get fed, go out the other side, get fresh feed, come back, get fed, go out to the other side of the farm, get fed again,” Mr O’Con­nor said.

“So they just tran­si­tion back­wards and for­wards through the dairy and they milk up to two and a half to three times per day, so you get more milk out of them this way.”

The cows have adapted very quickly to the ro­botic milk­ing, un­like the people who have had to un­der­take a huge learn­ing curve which has changed the tra­di­tional way of milk­ing the herd.

“The cows had it un­der con­trol in about two weeks, we are tak­ing a lit­tle longer,” Mr O’Con­nor said.

“It is a com­plete change in mind­set on how you milk.

“The ad­van­tage of this is that you don’t spend your time ac­tu­ally, phys­i­cally putting cups on.

“You spend more time look­ing at the com­puter and you have more time for other farm ac­tiv­i­ties, like farm man­age­ment, man­age­ment of pas­ture pro­duc­tion and an­i­mal health and life­style-type things.”

MrO’Con­no­raddedthat part of the rea­son ro­bot­ics was mak­ing its way into the dairy in­dus­try was due to the lack of avail­abil­ity and qual­ity of la­bor.

“With the tech­nol­ogy you ac­tu­ally get in­di­ca­tions of health is­sues ear­lier than you would with un­skilled la­bor out in the yard, so there are a num­ber of ben­e­fits to us­ing tech­nol­ogy,” he said.

“One of the things with the ro­bots is that they give a con­sis­tent ap­proach the whole time.

“It’s not like when the cows have a dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tor milk­ing them each time - it’s the same ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery time for them.

“They know what they are in for and the ro­bots have end­less pa­tience, so they just keep try­ing to put the cups on.

“And the good thing is the stu­dents now get ex­po­sure to a ro­botic dairy and they will ex­pe­ri­ence how it works.

While the ro­botic dairy cuts down on the need for milk­ers, Mr Wil­helms added that the la­bor now re­quired needs to be more skilled as the mix of ac­tiv­i­ties that needs to be per­formed is dif­fer­ent.

“You have to be able to han­dle the ro­bots and the com­puter sys­tem and you have to be able to un­der­stand what the com­puter sys­tem tells you be­cause you no longer phys­i­cally han­dle the cows,” Mr Wil­helms said.

“Is­sues such as ud­der health, like mas­ti­tis, are de­tected by the ro­bots that look at milk qual­ity and de­tect prob­a­bly about three days be­fore a hu­man could pick it up.

“The ro­bot will sort out the cows with what­ever is­sues it finds like an ud­der health prob­lem, whether they are on heat or their ID sys­tem has failed and the tech­ni­cian has to come in and work out why the cows have been sorted out and treat the is­sue once they have iden­ti­fied it.”

There are also more pres­sures on the farmer in terms of pas­ture man­age­ment.

Mr Wil­helms said that if cows were given too much pad­dock feed they would not be hun­gry enough to come back up to the dairy.

CUT­TING EDGE: Some of the ro­bot-driven milk­ing equip­ment in the $2.4 mil­lion Dookie univer­sity dairy.

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