How does your dairy push feed and manure? Do you rely on a skid loader and an employee? Pushing these responsibilities to automation can save labor, fuel, and equipment wear and tear. You can also realize other benefits, like higher dry matter intake (DMI) and milk production, greater cow comfort and cleanliness.

Johnson julie
Product Support Manager of Manure Products / GEA

Maybe you’re already using automation to help handle everyday barn chores, but you’re not happy with your system’s performance or it's time for an upgrade. A new system may provide more functionality and less maintenance.

With many automation options available, knowing what might work best on your farm can be challenging – especially if you’re incorporating automation into existing facilities or replacing an existing system. Take time to research your options and compare capabilities and maintenance requirements.

Weigh your options

Calculating your return on investment (ROI) is integral to your decision-making. Be wary of any prefilled ROI calculators that overpromise what the product can deliver. This careful calculation should be done using your farm’s unique situation and financials.

Consider how much time you spend scraping manure or pushing feed per day. Then, consider how much you pay employees for that time (see sidebar).


Beyond ROI, there are several other factors to consider when looking to purchase a new piece of technology for your barn:

  • Ease of installation. What does the installation process look like? How easy is it to install in existing facilities?
  • Service and maintenance. What are the service needs? How often does maintenance need to be performed? Can you train a team member to do it? When will you need to rely on your dealer?
  • Programming. How does the programming work? Does it run via a mobile app? How can you control the system if the app goes down? How many routes can the system be programmed to run in a day?


Automated feed pushers keep fresh feed in front of cows, increasing dry matter intake and improving milk production. Photo courtesy of GEA. 

Automate your feed pushing

Automated feed pushers keep feed in front of cows throughout the day and night, typically increasing DMI and improving milk production.

One 250-cow dairy previously spent two-and-a half hours per day pushing up feed. After installing an automated feed pusher, they were able to save this time and increase milk production by 2 to 3 pounds per cow. They also maintained production in the hot summer months they had typically lost.

Not every feed pusher works the same. Find out how each option works – does it follow a magnetic strip or pins? Feed pushers following a strip are more likely to stay on track as they maintain a stronger connection, whereas pins can allow the pusher to get off track more easily. Ensure there will be no RFID interference, which can be a problem with some feed pusher routing systems.

Consider how the pusher moves the feed. Some robots only move the feed pile closer to the bunk, following a straight path. Others can adjust for the remaining feed volume by moving closer or farther from the bunk to push the feed closer to the cows.

Some feed pushers can even work outside. The biggest concern is having a place where it can park itself, especially in inclement weather, and knowing you’ll need to replace the batteries more often. On one Midwest dairy, they built a two-sided shelter with a strip curtain door (like your grocer’s cooler), and the robotic feed pusher went right through it when push-up time came and was adequately protected when not in use.

Automate your manure scraping

Automated alley scrapers continuously scrape manure from the barn’s main walkways, keeping cows cleaner and preventing manure from splashing onto their udder. They also don’t disturb cows while eating, drinking or resting.

You can install manure scrapers on almost any size of operation, including heifer facilities. However, installation might be more challenging if you have a nontraditional layout, such as a barn retrofitted into a freestall.

Alley scrapers are generally low maintenance but require some upkeep. Greasing corner wheels every week, checking cables and taking the time to thoroughly review the system each month are recommended.

Winter can pose an extra challenge when maintaining manure equipment. Cold temperatures can cause equipment to freeze or break down if not properly maintained. Scraper system downtime in winter means extra headaches as frozen manure builds up and can’t be removed until it thaws, even after equipment is fixed. Working with your manure equipment dealer to perform maintenance in the fall before cold weather hits and immediately after winter will keep your scraper system running in top form.

Keeping feed in front of cows and the manure behind them to a minimum helps ensure they can focus on comfortable resting and eating to produce high-quality milk.

Common ROI for standard installations* 

Scenario: You spend 30 minutes each morning and each night scraping manure. An employee is paid $15 per hour.

Labor: $15 per hour

Time: 1 hour daily

Fuel use, wear and tear: Minimum $20 per hour 

In this scenario, labor, fuel, and wear and tear costs would amount to about $13,000 per year.

ROI: If scraping one hour daily, one can typically install a manure scraper (on one side of an averaged-sized freestall barn) for about $25,000 to $30,000. At that rate, the manure scraper pays for itself quickly in two years.

Installing a feed pusher in the same barn can cost approximately $30,000. Depending on how frequently the technology is programmed to push feed and the farm's previous feed management program, one could realize a payback in about two to three years.

*Cost estimates are as of May 20, 2024. Figures may vary depending on farm needs and specifications.