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Wanted: Employees for robotic dairies

Chris Duffy and Nancy Charlton for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 July 2018

Many dairy owners today are trained to manage cows – but not people. This dynamic is complicated further when robots are added to the mix. The skill set for an employee on a modern dairy farm varies greatly from the requirements of just 15 years ago.

Today’s farm employee must be able to use milking, feeding and behaviour data to manage production, reproduction and health targets – just to name a few.

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As you’ll see in the following job descriptions, it takes many different roles to run a successful robotic dairy farm.

These four main areas of responsibilities can be combined differently depending on the size of the farm, but each skill set and responsibility must be assigned appropriately.

In an efficient barn with up to eight robots, two people can effectively run the operation. Barns of four robots and fewer require two full-time equivalents to care for calves, heifers and cows, while it is common for barns of eight robots to employ one-and-a-half to two full-time equivalents to manage the milking cows only.

The fewer employees on the farm, the more important it is to have a well-rounded labour force that can contribute to more than one category of responsibility.

Outlined below are job descriptions for work on a robotic dairy, including specific positions such as facility manager, herd manager, manual labour and farm technician.

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Job overview

Reporting to the owner/operator, each position requires a basic understanding of computer use and great attention to detail for cleaning tasks.

All positions will be involved, at varying levels, in ensuring the comfort and well-being of cows, heifers and calves, while doing their part to increase production and efficiency.

Responsibilities and duties

Three areas of routine work include:

  • Monitoring the computer from a basic level of inputting data, identifying trends in the herd, analyzing changes with the herd advisers

  • Cleaning equipment for approximately 15 to 20 minutes per day

  • Maintaining stalls

Facility manager: The facility manager should be able to run the operation through the computer, delegating tasks based on the information presented and analyzed in the computer.

This person should have knowledge of every aspect on the history of the farm, understand the current challenges and possess a clear vision for any necessary changes.

Herd manager: The herd manager should be able to navigate the computer, identifying and downloading information needed to work closely with the herd veterinarian on regular herd health check-ups.

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This person will also be involved in fetching cows and must have a working knowledge of the mechanical side of the milking equipment, as he or she will be responsible for making or delegating changes and repairs.

Manual labour: Manual labour positions are primarily responsible for fetching cows, carrying out stall maintenance and identifying cows that need attention.

This person must be able to follow standard operating procedures once problem or sick cows are identified. This person is also responsible for keeping milking equipment clean.

Farm technician: The farm technician is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the milking equipment and facility. There will be opportunity to learn on the job, but previous mechanical training is preferred.

it takes many different roles to run a successful robotic dairy farm

Qualifications

Due to the differences in daily tasks and responsibilities on a conventional dairy, extensive previous farm experience is not required. However, all candidates considered for employment must exhibit a high level of care for the well-being of the herd and safety of all on the farm. Other qualifications include but are not limited to:

  • Ability to work with cows or be trained on how to work with calves and cows

  • Computer-based skills (data input at minimum)

  • Ability to understand how technology works

  • Ability to complete basic maintenance tasks either daily, weekly or monthly

  • Complete manual labour

Two important qualifications are the ability to complete physical labour and work well with calves and cows. However, those who can combine these skills with an understanding of technology will be given preference.

A successful candidate will be able to adapt quickly to new technologies and equipment. Those who show the ability to work as effectively with others as with cows will be a valuable asset, especially on a large farm.  end mark

Nancy Charlton is a DeLaval dairy adviser.

Chris Duffy is a VMS farm coach with DeLaval.

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