Robot rotary is world-first

Mepunga farmer Paul Smith is pleased with the smooth transition to a robotic dairy.

South-west Victorian farmer Paul Smith has never seen his cows so keen to get into the dairy.

It’s still early days, but it’s a case of “so far, so good” for a new robotic dairy on Paul and Marsha’s farm at Mepunga, and Paul can see long-term time, financial and health benefits.

The new GEA DairyProQ robotic rotary dairy, which went into action mid-October, is the first of its type built in Australia and the first in the world to operate on a pasture-based farming system.

“They’re going on better than the last dairy,” Paul said.

“We only have to use the back gate for the last 50, previously it was the last 200. They’re just filing in.”

The robots will try five times to attach to a cow and in the rare times they miss, an alert is sent.

Paul said the cows liked the automation.

“Generally, when you’re cupping up on a rotary, you’re standing right where they’re walking in,” he said.

“Because there’s no-one there, they’re just piling on better than I’ve ever seen them walk on a rotary.”

The conversion was an easy process with no major changes to the milking system.

“We just run them on here like we normally would,” Paul said.

“I had a crew of local helpers for the first couple of milkings, which was really great.

“A new dairy is always a challenge and it took us about five-and-a-half hours the first milking but everything went really well.”

Over the first two weeks, milking time has been cut to about 3.5 hours in the morning and three at night. That’s about half-an-hour slower than the old dairy but it’s 10 units shorter — 40 instead of 50.

“It’s probably on-par,” Paul said.

“If we have a good run, we’re milking 240 an hour which is pretty much where we were before. I was hoping for 250 an hour and we’re not far off that already.”

It’s too early to gauge any production changes because most cows are drying off.

“The good news is we haven’t gone down from where we were,” Paul said.

There have been no staff changes as yet but Paul expects two backpacker positions won’t be refilled, leading to long-term savings.

They are milking about 700 Holsteins and the vast majority are settling in well with the robotic system.

“The robots try about five times to attach the cups,” Paul said.

“If they don’t connect, the system sends an alert. We’re milking about 700 and only have to help about 50 with getting a cup on.”

A screen near the robotic rotary provides all the data and raises any alerts.

The dairy includes a nearby colour-coded screen showing what’s happening on the platform, including all production, cell count and health information.

“We haven’t had any major teething issues,” Paul said.

“We’re only two weeks in but so far, I’m happy we made the investment.”

Paul and Marsha invested in the new technology following years of research, starting with YouTube videos and followed by lengthy discussions with GEA and farmers who use the system.

The previous rotary dairy was built in 1998 and remained in use during the changeover. The DairyProQ robotic rotary is about 300 metres from the existing dairy.

With the DairyProQ rotary parlour, every milking procedure step is performed inside the teat cup in a fully automated process, including key sensors to constantly analyse and monitor the flow of milk and industrial touchscreens providing thorough insights into the milking process.

DPQ dairies can go up to 80 stalls to milk 600 cows an hour.

The cows are keen to file in and be milked.
Backing out is easy after the cows have been milked.