Time to Automate Your Dairy Farm!

milking parlor

Why Automation is Important and How to Do it

We’re in the 21st century and all around, industries are changing. Whether in finance, manufacturing, agriculture, medicine, or other, technology is being used to streamline manual processes, reduce the chances of human error, improve accuracy and reliability, and generally make processes faster and more efficient. Now is the optimum time to explore the use of technology to better run your farm.

One of the ways in which technology is making the biggest impact is in the area of automation. Tasks that used to require a human presence on-site for several hours a day (24/7 in certain industries) can now be run by machines that are programmed to gather data and perform specified actions without direct human intervention.

In the dairy industry, automation is leading to:

  • Higher production rates
  • More efficient use of feed, supplements, water, and other resources
  • Better and more consistent milk quality
  • Healthier herds
  • Higher conception rates
  • Improved worker safety
  • Reduced demands on human labor
  • Increased profits

Many of the processes carried out daily on dairy farms across the world, can be automated using tools and solutions designed specifically for this purpose.

In this article, we run through some of the tasks and processes that can be automated and some tools that can help you do so.

cow monitoring system

1. 24/7 Cow Monitoring

To maximize production and keep a dairy farm running efficiently, it is essential to know what state the cows are in at all times. In the past, farmhands had to be physically present with the cows for several hours a day. Their task was to observe many features of the cow, such as:

  • Feeding and rumination – are the cows eating as expected.
  • General state – are the cows agitated or calm. The cow’s state could indicate problems with conditions on the farm such as overcrowding in the barn, overheating or insufficient food, or change in food quality.
  • Fertility – carry out checks and observe signs that indicate cows are in their fertile window.
  • Calving – watch out for calving readiness and ensure someone is on-site at the right moment. This could mean spending days in the barn as calving season draws near.
  • Health – farmhands need to be alert to the signs of the health conditions that can plague dairy farms, such as mastitis or digestion problems. Spotting health problems early is essential so that they can be treated before they lead to more widespread damage on the farm.

The need to be physically on the farm to observe the cows placed an enormous burden on farmers. Today, farmers can use tools that act as their eyes and ears 24/7, reducing the burden on human resources and also – because they use sensors to gather data from the cow all the time – adding a degree of accuracy that wasn’t possible before.

AfiAct II

Tools - AfiCollar, AfiAct II

Among the Afimilk suite of farming tools there are two devices that can monitor cows day and night and provide farmers with essential alerts regarding health, fertility, feeding, and other behavior – AfiCollar and AfiAct II. Using these tools, farmers can be anywhere they like (even resting up in the farmhouse) and still receive alerts so they know when it’s time to go to the barn and take action. 

Afimilk sensors

AfiAct II (Cow pedometer)

What it’s used for:

  • Heat detection
  • Group welfare
  • Cow health alerts
  • Animal Identification
  • Calving alerts

AfiCollar (Neck collar)

What it’s used for:

  • Heat detection
  • Group behavior/ group nutrition
  • Rumination and eating monitoring
  • Cow health alerts
  • Animal Identification
herd management

2. Milking Parlor

The days of manual milking are (happily) long gone. The automated milking parlor makes everything to do with milking faster and more efficient. Farms can milk many more cows per day than they ever could pre-automation.

On most farms, cows are milked two to three times a day. At each milking, the cow is attached to the milking machine for a significant period of time. If the machine falls or is kicked off, it must be reattached. Depending on the specific machine in use, there will be a pattern of pulsations designed to extract the maximum quantity of milk in the most efficient way. Any problem at the level of milking (the milking protocol) can lead to poor udder health, significant discomfort to the cow, and a loss of production and quality.

A great advantage of using an automated system is that it can be programmed to carry out the milking protocol deemed most suitable by the farmer. The system also allows farmers to track the efficacy of the milking protocol in use and make any changes needed to improve yield as well as cow health and comfort.

Tools - Milking Efficiency Module, Parlor Automation Tool

Afimilk’s milking efficiency module used in conjunction with parlor automation tools raises the bar in milking efficiency.  Farmers can not only automate their parlor but they can also train and monitor the parlor team, optimize the milking process, improve udder health, and heighten milk productivity. The module allows farmers to preset and track various metrics and then use the data to devise the optimal milking protocol for their farm.

Some of the metrics that can be controlled and tracked are:

  • % milk output in the first 2 mins
  • AMT (Actual Milking Time)
  • Flow rate
  • Low flow time
  • Milking bimodality
  • Irregular take-off
  • Unnecessary attachment
  • Kick-off

3. Milk Analysis

Farmers need to take regular samples of each cow’s milk to check that all is well. Changes in milk quality could indicate infection or disease (such as mastitis) or poor nutrition. Milk that is contaminated due to infection must be detected and siphoned off so it doesn’t get added to the main milk tank. Farmers also need to keep a record of the fat and protein content of the milk, especially if they need to meet certain standards for sale. Doing all this manually is labor-intensive and inaccurate but, today, all these functions can be automated.

milking parlor

Tools - MPC Milk Meter and Afilab

Tools like Afimilk’s MPC Milk Meter and Afilab relieve farmers of the burden of manually sampling and testing milk. The  MPC Milk Meter and Afilab measure milk yield, the ratio of protein to fat, conductivity, and lactose content for each cow at each milking. Farmers can use this data to glean important insights, including:

  • Milk yield – This information can be useful for short-term detection of health problems, improved animal selection, and long-term genetic potential.
  • Milk solids – changes in the ratio of the protein and fat components in milk can help farmers detect ketosis, nutritional issues, and digestion-related health problems.
  • Conductivity and lactose content– changes in these components can indicate mastitis and other health problems.

4. Feeding

Farmers need to take regular samples of each cow’s milk to check that all is well. Changes in milk quality could indicate infection or disease (such as mastitis) or poor nutrition. Milk that is contaminated due to infection must be detected and siphoned off so it doesn’t get added to the main milk tank. Farmers also need to keep a record of the fat and protein content of the milk, especially if they need to meet certain standards for sale. Doing all this manually is labor-intensive and inaccurate but, today, all these functions can be automated.

Tools - AfiFeed

AfiFeed is Afimilk’s automatic feeding supply system. Using the milk analysis data from the MPC milk meters, farmers can devise a suitable diet for each individual cow. The AfiFeed system can be set to work inside the milking parlor or installed as an independent module outside of it and can be set by the farmer to precisely ration up to 4 different types of supplements based on the herd’s requirements. By using AfiFeed to efficiently apportion a calculated supply of nutritional supplements to each cow,  farmers can free up time, save valuable resources, and increase milk production.

5. Sort and Weigh

Body condition indicates cows’ general physiological status. Without automated methods for evaluating body condition, dairymen cannot use this vital parameter in their decision-making. In addition, leading cows to the correct location each day is a big and stressful job. Many workers are needed to ensure that cows go to the right place – for milking, for treatment, feeding, etc. Instead of doing it the old way, this too can now be automated. 

Tools - AfiSort and Weigh

The AfiSort and Weigh system automates animal sorting, identifying, weighing, and sorting the cows according to where they should go  after each milking.

Farmers can also use the bodyweight data to evaluate eligibility for breeding, the efficiency of feed intake, and other postpartum problems reflected in body condition. 

6. Farm Management

You thought you had to be “married to the farm” in order to manage it efficiently. That may have been true in days gone by, but with all the tools available today (especially the ones we’ve introduced in this article), farmers no longer have to keep people on the farm day and night to oversee all the farm’s operations and make good management decisions.

herd management app

AfiFarm is a total management solution for dairy farms. From one screen – the AfiFarm ABC dashboard – farmers can get a snapshot of their farm’s functioning and use it to devise daily work plans, make management decisions and run the farm effectively, even from a distance.

AfiFarm collects, interprets, and displays all the data from the devices in use on the farm (collars, pedometers, milk meters, etc)  giving it to the farmer in a digestible manner that supports practical and informed decision making. And it just got better – farmers can now access all this valuable data from their mobile phone using the new mobile app – Afi2Go .

cow monitoring system

Get on Board!

There is a good reason why every industry is waking up to the need to automate. Aside from liberating humans from boring, repetitive, or excessively time-consuming tasks, leaving them free for higher-level functions and decision-making, automation is generally faster, more efficient, and less error-prone than doing things the human way.

If you’re ready to automate your farm or you want to ramp up your automation, check out some of the Afimilk products mentioned in this article and explore how they can help you achieve your goals.

Tags

Subscribe Now!

Get the latest farm knowledge

Trending

Employing AfiLab™ for commercialized real time, on-line milk separation according to its clotting properties
AfiLab

Where the milk starts talking.
Integrated milking point analysis and control.

What We Offer

Accurate rumination and eating patterns are used as indications of each cow’s …
AfiFarm is a management software tool that handles up to 60,000 animals in …
Afimilk has designed a unique set of milk sensors to monitor and record …

About Us

Afimilk provides advanced dairy management solutions for farmers including cow monitoring, farm management software, and parlor automation. We go above and beyond standard monitoring to bring our …

Related Content

Waste Not. Want Not!

The farm is home to 1800 dairy cattle, with 1200 Holstein cows calving annually. Robhoek is spread across 240 hectares of irrigated ryegrass pasture and plants 60 hectares of maize for silage annually. The solutions presented here enable the farm to save costs on food and supplements as well as ensure that each cow is fed a diet tailored to its nutritional needs.

Read More
Aficollar - Monitor all cows in the farm
AfiCollar in Action! Based on the Real-Life Experience on Robhoek Farm, SA

A collar worn around the neck of each cow continuously measures neck movements providing accurate real-time information regarding each cow’s rumination and eating time, and neck activity (useful in heat detection). The data from the collars allows farmworkers to extrapolate critical information regarding cow health and wellbeing in real-time.

Read More
The “Weigh” to Higher Profit!

The story of a professional farmer who uses the AfiSort and Weigh system which identifies, weighs, and sorts the cows according to where they should go at each milking. Sort and Weigh helps him achieve important efficiency targets on the farm.

Read More

© 2019-2020 Afimilk Ltd. | All Rights Reserved     Terms of use | Privacy policy