The Economics of Dairy Robotic Milking Systems

Globally, over 35,000 robotic milking systems are operating on farms. Installing milking robots is an excellent way to expand operations without the farmer having to hire additional staff. It also improves the quality of life for farmers by making work easier. Firms like Fullwood Packo offer innovative solutions.

Drivers of Milk Profitability

Various factors are influencing RMS profitability. Some of them include; milk production per cow, milk produced by each robot daily, labour cost savings and the length of useful life.
The biggest disadvantage of using robots is the heavy investment needed.

Capital of $150,000- $200,000 is needed per robot that can milk between 50-70 cows. As per historical statistics, it is more costly to use milking robots than it is to use conventional milking techniques. However, these results may be turned around by improved management techniques, higher labour costs and improvement of robotic technology.

Labour Usage Efficiency

According to USDA (2016), the total wages paid to livestock workers increased from 3%-4% between 2014 and 2015. However, the reported RMS labour savings have shown variations. Some farmers indicate zero savings while the highest level of savings recorded is 29%. These differences may be explained by the barn design as well as the different management systems. Farm management records as per Finbin (2016) show that RMS farms in the Upper Midwest side produced 2.2 million lbs of milk per worker compared to the 1.5 million lbs produced by herds of the same size milked in parlours.

Another determining factor when it comes to the installation of milking robots is the availability of farmworkers. A survey done in 2014 showed that 51% of farmworkers were immigrants (Adcock et al., 2015). The availability of immigrant workers may change if strict immigration laws in the US are passed or if fewer workers are willing to work on farms.

Changes in Milk Production When Robots Are Used

Milk production is severely affected by a change in milking patterns and frequency. According to de Koning (2010), robotic herds increased milk production by 5%-10% compared to milking twice but production reduced by 5%-10% compared to milking thrice. On average, our survey showed that RMS milking frequency ranged between 2.4 and 3.2 but was centred at 2.8. For optimum efficiency, there should be a high milking frequency during early lactation and a lower frequency during late lactation. Milking frequency is affected by the key factors below:

  • The number of cows a robot milks
  • The settings of milking permissions
  • Palatability of feeds, both partial mixed ration and robot box feed.
  • The policy of cow fetching
  • Walking distance and the design of the barn, especially in grazing cows.

Comparison between Robotic Milking Systems and Conventional Parlour Systems

A study by Bijl et al. (2007) made comparisons between the economic performances of Dutch farms to conventional farms milking two times. RMS conventional farms were more profitable because RMS farms were more costly. The income per worker was, however, higher on RMS farms because fewer labourers were needed.

Milk Produced per Robot

For maximum profit, milk per robot must also be maximized. The net annual income for a four robot system increases by $4100 for every 500 lb of milk. This is using a 2% annual wage inflation for 20 years. In some US farms, over 6000 lb of milk per robot is being harvested daily. To achieve this, a combination of high milk levels per cow and the number of cows per robot is utilized. Below are the most crucial factors in achieving this:

  • Milking permission settings to make sure that the milk timings are correct
  • Lower box time for each cow
  • High-quality RMS.