Larger dairy farmers have been waiting for years for a rotary milking parlor equipped, plumbed and primed with robotics. That game-changer may now be ready for prime-time milk production.
On August 20, GEA Farm Technologies broke ground at Cashton, Wis., for the world's first commercial-scale DairyProQ rotary parlor at the Mlsna East Town Dairy.
Prototypes were previously tested on research and pilot farms in Europe. But this is a 72-stall rotary equipped with individual robotic milking modules.
"Application of this technology on such a large operation has not been done before anywhere else in the world," says Matt Daley, chief executive officer with GEA Farm Technologies. "For most dairy farmers in America, this is quite significant."
How it's designed
Each stall unit has its own robotic arm, designed to automate teat prep (cleaning), stimulation, cup attachment, fore-stripping, milk harvest and post-dipping. It's all are done inside each teat cup. After each cow is milk, the unit is automatically removed and backflushed to sanitize the clusters.
Teats are pre-dipped in-liner, then rinsed with water, explains Robin Matthayasack, GEA director of marketing and communications. "That solution is diverted to a separate waste line along with fore-stripped milk. When milk harvest is engaged, saleable milk is run through a separate line to prevent contamination."
Equipping a rotary parlor with robotic arms means the parlors will be larger than for conventional rotaries. That's one reason retro-fitting existing rotaries won't be possible, according to Greg Larson, GEA's milking system expert. In the future, GEA engineers expect to incorporate the robotic technology into parallel or herringbone configurations, notes Matthayasack.
Problem cows or special needs cows can be milked on a semi-automatic, manual basis if required. But the Milsna farm's current double-12 parlor will still be used for fresh and special needs cows.
The Mlsa family sees this robotic rotary as a key part of its plan to expand from 900 cows to 2,000. More than doubling the milking herd, they're faced with concerns about their labor force being able to handle the increased cow volume. They hope to start milking cows in the new parlor in March 2015.
Lower milking labor costs plus improved milk-quality monitoring are prime incentives for the U.S. growth of robotic milking in both large and small dairy farms. But one all-important question has yet to be answered.
What'll a DairyProQ robotic rotary parlor cost? GEA officials haven't yet put a price on it.