Automation is transforming the way we live and work. The more we understand automation, the better equipped we are to make it work for us. Let's explore the top five reasons for automating the milking routine on a dairy, in no particular order.
1. The labor shortage
Attracting people to dairy farming has always had its challenges. Attracting good people and keeping them is becoming increasingly difficult due to competition from other industries. Automating tasks in the parlor, such as cluster removal and teat spraying, immediately reduces staff numbers per shift. Automation enables staff members the opportunity to engage in more meaningful and enjoyable work, increasing their satisfaction and productivity.
2. Herd management
Automated systems for herd management measure, record and collate data for every cow in the herd. Radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags or collars identify individual cows. Information related to production, mastitis risk, fertility status and other health issues are accurately recorded. This automated data collection saves time and eliminates human error, leading to better herd management decisions. RFID-equipped sort gates and weight recording scales further reduce human intervention by remotely sorting cows into respective groups. As technology continues to evolve, new features are constantly being introduced.
3. Return on investment (ROI)
Committing money to technology should show financial returns. While labor savings are an obvious benefit, calculating the ROI for automation involves more than just reduced staffing costs. Also consider the value of improved consistency; a machine is more consistent than a human, and cows love consistency in their routines. Happy cows translate into increased production, reduced somatic cell count and improved milk quality, positively impacting the bottom line. More savings come from better herd health, fewer hospital cows, lower treatment costs and fewer skilled people providing cow care.
4. Parlor efficiency
Every investment in technology should improve efficiency. The key to getting the most from technology is having everyone on board. The efficiency of any operation is reliant on its people. Training and educating staff about new technology and explaining the benefits and the impacts on the entire operation is empowering. An automated teat sprayer, for example, does the job a person used to do, spraying every cow consistently day and night. This relieves staff of one of the most monotonous jobs in the parlor.
5. Peace of mind
Although it may sound cliché, the importance of peace of mind should not be disregarded. Modern farmers and their families understand there is more to life than work. The nagging worries that plague the minds of farmers even when they are not on the farm can be put to rest, knowing technology is doing the job. Automation ensures production metrics for each cow are recorded at every milking, and milking prep is happening regardless of the people in the parlor. Peace of mind eliminates nagging concerns, improves mental wellness and allows farmers to take charge of their lifestyle and prioritize quality of life.
Sharing the rationale behind new technology reduces feelings of threat and uncertainty among staff and improves staff engagement.
Around 95% of U.S. dairy farms are family-owned and operated, each with its own approach to adopting technology. Succession planning is a top priority for many families, as passing the farm to the next generation is an important goal. Others focus on maximizing efficiency to get the most out of what they have. Some families aim for growth through acquisition or development. The remaining 5% are the large commercial operators driven by corporate targets.
Now, let's consider how these reasons for investing in automation apply to our four groups of farmers:
These families are less affected by the labor market, with family members working on the farm, often supported by a small pool of loyal locals. They seek labor-saving devices that improve the working environment. Herd management tools are also important, and although costs per cow may be higher for smaller herds, these systems can be adopted incrementally based on available budgets. Lifestyle improvements and peace of mind have significant value for this group.
Their goal is to maximize cow numbers and individual cow production within their existing parlor setup. Automation add-ons, such as teat sprayers and cluster removers, reduce labor requirements. Herd management tools are priorities for this group to help shape a high-production herd. Succession planning is also important with family members active in the operation.
Families upsizing for growth
These families aim to expand through acquisition or further development. Parlor expansions or new builds incorporating advanced technology are common. Efficient herd management becomes crucial as cow numbers increase. Managing a larger workforce and retaining staff in today's labor market is important, so automating to reduce staff numbers and create a better work environment is also a focus. Maximizing parlor efficiency is not only about the installation of technology but also requires intelligent management practices that involve the staff. Parlor efficiency and peace of mind cannot be bought; they are concepts achieved with strategic management.
This group manages multiple farms under one umbrella, benefiting from consistency in equipment and systems across their facilities. Addressing the labor shortage through automation is a priority, and decisions are driven by ROI considerations. Comparing herd management metrics across multiple farms helps identify best practices and improve performance. Staff retention is crucial, and training programs are implemented to upskill employees and foster loyalty. Clear career pathways for people within the organization promote individual growth and build confidence.
Decisions regarding technology investments should be tailored to the goals of each farmer. Identifying the desired outcome before selecting the technology is crucial to achieving the goal. By having a clear vision of the result and selecting the right tools to get there, farmers can successfully embrace automation in the milking routine and drive their operations into the future.