Record Keeping and Monitoring
As with any system record keeping and monitoring on an AMS farm is important to assess the performance of the current operation and identify areas for improvement.
There is a lot of information that can be obtained on a daily basis from an AMS; however it is important to work out what information you need to improve the overall performance of the farm business.
Start by assessing the overall farm position using tools such as DairyBase to benchmark your system against others as well as cash flow and annual budgets. Most if this information is not specific to an AMS.
The detailed data collected by the AMS is most useful for monitoring cow flow, machine utilisation, animal health and yield.
Feed management on a farm with AMS can easily be over complicated. However, the principles are no different to those under a conventional milking system.
Pasture is the cheapest source of feed we have in New Zealand, therefore maximising pasture eaten/harvested on farm needs to be a priority. Supplement use needs to be monitored and quantified to ensure that substitution for pasture is not occurring.
Other factors to consider:
- Target residuals of 7-8 clicks (1480 – 1620kgDM/ha on winter formula) for lactating cows and pre- grazing covers should be directly related to stocking rate and current round length ((S.R x intake x round length) + residual (1500) = trigger level/target pre grazing cover)
- Stocking rate and comparative stocking rate are important values under AMS as they can be used to ensure that feed supply and demand is aligned.
- Calving date and spread can both have a significant impact on the overall system profitability.
There are many factors which need to be taken into account when confirming the optimum calving date and spread for your farm. With AMS there is a tendency to want to maximise the capital (robots) on farm. However, this may not be the most profitable for your system and business.
Factors which need to be taken into consideration include: imported feed, balance date (pasture supply = demand), stocking rate and calving spread.
- To calculate what your current calving spread is costing you refer to the InCalf Calving Pattern Tool
In any dairy system cows are a main component and animal health, welfare and breeding need to be regularly assessed.
- Breeding and Reproduction: On AMS farms breeding and reproduction is an area which if not monitored and maintained can easily lead to significant system changes occurring (system creep) over time. Although tempting to milk on cows that do not get in-calf during the mating period enforce strict rules (e.g. two strikes and you’re out) to ensure cows with inferior fertility are culled from the herd. There may be cows whose physical and behavioural characteristics are more suited to AMS. While there is as yet no account of this in national BW calculations it may be a good idea to take note of animals especially suited to automatic milking.
- Tools to help ensure a sustainable breeding and mating programme is maintained include InCalf
- Mastitis management: Most research shows that long-term the rates of mastitis under AMS do not change from farms using conventional milking methods, although it is common to observe an elevation in SCC during the transition phase. Lactation data from the AMS should be used to identify cows at risk of mastitis (e.g. previous clinical episodes, chronic elevated SCC) and candidates for culling. Ensure there are good procedures in place to manage and/or mitigate potential problems. Focus on how the daily data on udder health is being used to proactively manage mastitis. The SAMM plan is a good resource to help with this.
In reviewing farm performance, identify what skills are needed to achieve the farm goals and provide training opportunities for staff.
There is a general misconception that with AMS, staff/labour will be surplus to requirement. In reality the major change is in the type of work and the flexibility around when this work is carried out
Good work routines along with systems and procedures for the farm are critical to capture the labour benefits of an AMS system.
The skill level required to operate an AMS farm is different to that of a conventional system.
Have policies and manuals in place so that people working on the farm (i.e regular staff, contractors, tanker drivers) understand the systems in place and procedures to achieve them.
Adjusting milking permission settings to increase night milking's
It is common on AMS farms operating a grazing system for cows to be more active during the day than at night. This means that often there are quiet periods when the AMS are underutilised, especially between midnight and 6am, which then puts pressure on the capacity of the AMS during the day resulting in queues of cows waiting to use the AMS. One of the ways to smooth out the flow and achieve more even use of the machines is to set different milking permission settings during the night. For example if the minimum milking interval is set to 9hours between milkings during the day, you could change this to 6h during the night. Most software will have this as an option but you will need to ask your service technician. The effect is that more cows approaching the dairy during the night will be drafting to the machines therefore increasing the number of night milkings and reducing the queues of cows during the day.
Using gate change time settings to smooth out cow flow on the farm
Cows are quick to learn when new areas of pasture are available via the gate changes. Often cows will wait for these times, up to two hours before the gate actually changes, causing blockages on raceways and in the dairy. Some cows have been observed to wait in the holding yard and not enter the AMS until it is close to a gate change time. One way to stop this happening is to allow cows’ access to a new paddock only if they meet certain criteria. For example cows that have been milked can go to the new paddock at say 2pm but cows that are not due for milking are returned to the old paddock until the true gate change time of 4pm. This makes it more difficult for cows to learn the gate change times and has the effect of encouraging cows to come to the dairy and use the AMS as there is a chance they can gain access to the new paddock. If you are operating a system that has plenty of spare capacity mass movement of the herd is less of a problem as queues will clear quickly.
Optimising Robot use
There are several factors which affect the milk harvesting efficiency of an AMS:
- Yield per milking
- Number of failed and incomplete milkings
- Cup attachment rate
- Use of a pre-milking cleaning system
- Milking speed
- System down time (for maintenance, washes and alarms)
This AMS Utilisation Calculator allows you to model the effect of changes in each of these factors on overall efficiency of your AMS.