The dairy industry is evolving faster than ever. To maintain a competitive advantage, management styles must keep pace with that growth. Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly advancing into every business segment and dairy is no different. Automated milking is part of the AI revolution. There are, however, many myths surrounding the fundamentals of robotic dairies that may present unnecessary roadblocks to those considering the switch.

Meihak dan
Dairy XL Proposition Specialist / Lely North America

Myth 1: Milking robots are only manageable on small farms

Since their commercial introduction 30 years ago, milking robots have proven themselves to be efficient in operations of nearly any size, with impact that scales with the size of the herd. Part of the reason for this efficiency has to do with a fundamental difference in management style between conventional and robotic dairies.

The accompanying software used to manage milking robots treats every cow as an individual, rather than treating large groups within a herd. In this way, producers can receive individual production and health data and manage by exception, rather than manage to the average. This enables producers to direct their attention only to cows that need it, regardless of herd size. The possibility of milking, feeding and managing several thousand cows, based on their individual needs, is a reality in automated milking systems.

Myth 2: Managing robotic milking systems requires a high degree of technical expertise and potentially a new hire to run them

Robotic milking systems are paired with software that aggregates performance and health data and delivers it to the producer. Software platforms are designed to be user-friendly, easy to understand and frequently incorporate portable applications. For most, the learning curve of the software is relatively simple, especially when accompanied by quality training provided by the equipment dealer. Systems that are too complicated to use efficiently have little commercial value. Thus, the focus is on intuitive designs and applications.

Myth 3: Maintenance costs on milking robots are expensive

The way to approach this myth is to first consider the maintenance that goes into traditional dairy farming equipment. For example, any piece of equipment in the farmyard will have a regular maintenance formula to follow. This may include checking fluid levels, lubrication or replacing consumable parts such as tires, belts or joints. Much of this normal, expected maintenance can be done by the farm staff. Likewise, there are some tasks more suitable for a trained technician.


The same is true of milking robots. They have regular maintenance routines, which occur daily or weekly, and extended maintenance, which might involve a dealer technician. The term “robots” might conjure images of Star Trek, but the reality is that it is a relatively simple machine with moving parts. Like any other piece of equipment in the farmyard, it requires care and maintenance. And, like those other pieces of farm equipment, robots can easily be maintained by farm staff.

Myth 4: Milking robots are only suitable for new-construction facilities

Part of managing a robotic milking facility is overseeing upfront costs and installation concerns. One of the most pervasive myths about milking robots is that they require a “green” site and new construction. In truth, milking robots can be retrofitted into nearly any existing facility.

Tied into this myth is the belief that milking robots are a closed system, incapable of interfacing with existing dairy infrastructure. The reality is most robotic systems on the market today can work side-by-side with conventional systems, integrating with third-party software and even pre-existing milk transport systems.

Myth 5: Feed costs increase substantially in automated milking systems

It is a known fact that cows visit a robot because of their attraction to feed. What becomes a myth is the exaggerated costs associated with feed delivered by a robot. Let’s take a step back and use some logic to assess the topic. Typically, a total mixed ration (TMR) will deliver nutrients to support 10% to 15% above the production level of a group. While that level of nutrition is needed for cows above the average, it is wasting nutrients on those cows below the average. And remember, average means half are above and half are below a given level of production.

Robot installations typically use what is referred to as a partially mixed ration (PMR). PMRs are designed to support an average level of production, and higher-density nutrients are delivered at the robot, creating the draw for the cow. In reality, the cow is in a feed-to-need environment, which is the most efficient way to manage feed costs.

Due diligence is always advisable when considering a major capital investment. Hopefully, by busting some common myths, dairy producers can realistically consider adding an automated milking system to their operation to take advantage of opportunities in the technology.