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Keep automatic milking systems running well in cold weather

Ben Smink for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 December 2016
Automatic milking sytems

Winter can be challenging for any livestock operation and, without proper attention, can lead to problems. Dairies with robotic milking systems are no exception.

Temperatures dropping outside and inside the barn create issues with frozen water hoses, cords, water troughs and, in some cases, frostbite for cows’ teats.

All of these issues will affect your cows’ visits to the robot and yield and, last but not least, your own (unplanned) workload and efficiency.

Roger and Joanmarie Weiss, along with their daughter, Margie, operate Weiss Centennial Farm in Frankenmuth, Michigan. They consulted with other robotic dairy owners before adding a robot to their operation in 2011.

“When we decided to put in the robotic milking system we spoke with other farmers about how they make it through the winter,” says Margie Weiss.

“Most farmers recommended in-floor heating inside the robot barn, which we did. Last year, we added a new furnace, which heats water and the radiant heat floors of the robot room.”

“Be proactive when you’re in the planning stages of adding robots to a barn,” advises Darrell McIntyre, Lely technical service support manager based in Ontario.

“Consider a centralized heat source that can be delivered to the robot room via an air duct. It is always best to supply heated air movement to the room for over pressure to allow cold air to be pushed away from the robot."

"In the summer, it could even be an additional benefit to keep flies away.”

Daan Stehouwer, a Lely master product specialist who serves western Canada says, “Although we strongly advise to keep the robot in a frost-free environment, they have shown to be capable of milking in colder environments if they have continuous visits and alarms are attended to promptly.

If alarms occur, act upon them promptly so the system does not shut down.”

Stehouwer says sometimes the first things to freeze up are the ropes underneath the robot arm during milking, as they can be exposed to cold winds.

If possible, prevent the ropes’ exposure to freezing cold by pumping warm air over pressure from the milking, cooling or compressor room to the robot room.

If this air can be blown underneath the cow and the robot arm when the rest of the room is sealed, that will prevent frozen ropes.

“In addition, keep the ropes greasy and keep water out of them by soaking them in silicone spray or Vaseline,” Stehouwer says.

He says there have been barn installations with freezer curtains around the robot that create a warm air pocket around the robot. “This resolves all issues but the cows need to get used to it and it requires construction,” Stehouwer says.

Other tips include:

  • Chose a teat dip that has additional skin conditioners to protect the cows’ teats from little cracks and frost damage.

  • Adjust the automatic ventilation control and put fan covers on to make sure barn curtains are in good shape.

  • If you use heaters within your robot area, try and test them in advance.

  • If your robot area is sensitive to cold airflow, think ahead about how to stop this and what kind of materials you might need. Buy these materials in advance.

  • Typical rough or worn out cup cords are more sensitive to frost. Check your cup cords and replace them when necessary. As stated above, spray cords with silicone if needed.

  • Check and calibrate the correct proportion of water and chemicals for cleaning.

  • If you are using a so-called “heating ribbon” for your water supply, check its function.

  • If you have insulated your water pipes, visually check the insulation.

  • Check that the water boiler is working properly and keeps reaching the desired temperature.

  • Ask yourself whether your footbath management should be adjusted to wintertime. Do you really want footbaths in freezing cold temperatures?

  • Get out a few more mousetraps and catch rodents early in the winter before they start eating wires.

Overall, think in advance about any mechanical issues that could occur on your farm in wintertime, and act proactively.  end mark

PHOTO: In cold weather, one of the first items to freeze is the ropes under the robot arm. Prevent the ropes’ exposure to freezing cold temperatures by pumping warm air over pressure from the milking, cooling or compressor room to the robot room. Photo courtesy of Lely North America.

Ben Smink is a manager with farm management support for Lely North America. Email Ben Smink. 

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