How robots ensure equality and health in the barn

How robots ensure equality and health in the barn

Schoolchildren and grown-ups alike are wide-eyed when Alida Meering opens the gate to the fully automated freestall barn with the four GEA DairyRobot R9500 milking boxes. For the participants in her cheese workshop, this is often the first ever encounter with live agriculture. Meering relates how their surprise grows “when people see how we treat the cows, how the freestall and the modern milking facility is designed and the investments and effort we have made to ensure that the cows are as comfortable as possible.”

Improving animal well-being and work efficiency through modernization

Animal health and cow comfort were always the top priority for trained nurse, Alida Meering. When she and her partner took over his family’s farm, the couple wanted to make milk production more sustainably. So Meering, now a part-time dairy farmer, and Jan Hendrik Deiman invested in a modern freestall barn concept including automation with four GEA DairyRobot R9500 milking boxes, a self-driving feeding system as well as a cleaning robot save the couple a lot of work. The fact that automated milking promotes udder health is what Meering especially appreciates about GEA’s milking robot system, but she also values the ability to manage animal health preemptively. Other big advantages are the innovatively designed barn equipment as well as the comfortable configuration of the cubicles.

How robots ensure equality and health in the barn

“In 2017 we started with the preparations for building the new barn,” remembers Alida Meering. “Beforehand one barn and several feed silos had to be moved.” Converting the dairy farm on the outskirts of the town of Stadskanaal in the Groningen province of the Netherlands also brought great advantages in terms of work efficiency. For 20 years, milking had been done with a rotary milking parlor. Mornings and evenings, the staff were blocked by fixed milking times. Now the new freestall barn can be run by a single employee. In the impressive building, open-design side walls allow light and air to flow inside when needed. An ideal atmosphere is created for the dairy cows, neither too warm and nor too cold. Additionally, wide walkways offer extra space for the current 220 animals to move freely.

Automated milking fosters udder health

“Since February 2020, we have been milking with the four GEA milking robots. We especially like how compact the boxes are.” Following their own bio rhythms, the cows independently come to be milked. They simply arrive at the waiting area, after their readiness for milking has been checked in pre-selection. Four boxes give lower-ranked cows the chance to enter the milking box without having to endure long waiting times. When the milking robot’s wide entrance gate closes, the feeding trough fills with the concentrate ration specifically composed for each animal. Now the cow stands calmly in the box, the MilkRack glides under the udder and attaches the teat cups. The four milking boxes are all connected to one central supply unit, this way they can be run cost-effectively and energy-efficiently.

What fascinates Alida Meering about GEA’s milking robots is the gentle milking procedure at low vacuum levels and the unique In-Liner Everything technology: “Udder health has improved significantly since we milk our cows with the DairyRobot R9500. The somatic cell count is at 100,000, that’s a great result!” All steps from udder stimulation, cleaning teats, pre-milking all the way to gentle and complete milking as well as dipping take place on the quarter level, swiftly and hygienically in the protected teat cup. The dipping procedure moistens the teat’s skin with a protective shield and protects the teat canal from any bacteria and germs in the barn.

The cows’ well-being is the top priority in the milking facility and barn

Aside from excellent milk quality, the DairyRobot R9500 delivers a precise image of every udder quarter of every cow. Deviating values in milk quantity, conductivity or temperature can point to an emerging udder infection and are included on the list of milk alarms. Thanks to precise notifications, the affected animal can be examined in a targeted way. Treating a diseased animal early helps bring it back to healthy performance quickly and prevents milk losses: “We have a large straw area for sick and weak cows. Thanks to the milking pit and the possibility to attach manually, cows with special needs can be conveniently treated directly in the milking box.”

After being milked the cow walks back to the freestall barn. Rubber mats on the concrete slatted floor ensure stability and promote hoof health. GEA One Way Finger Gates can only be entered in one direction, guiding cows and supporting their natural rhythm of eating, lying and being milked. The flexible cubicle divisions promise great comfort. Without confining, they offer cows security and freedom to move when entering and leaving the box. Since the comfortable Akwatopsoft mattress system invites cows to lie down immediately, the cubicle beds stay hygienically clean. The longer time spent there also supports blood circulation and rumination activity, which in turn promotes milk yield.

Animal observation with GEA CowScout

While the Dutch dairy farmers manage the herd with GEA DairyPlan, they rely on GEA CowScout for observing their animals. The monitoring system first makes movement profiles and then, with sensors, keeps an eye on animals around the clock. Should unusual eating or movement behavior arise, possibly suggesting an emerging hoof disease or metabolic disorders, these can be counteracted without delay using targeted measures. GEA CowScout is of especially great service when it comes to successful reproduction management: “The plan is to grow continually. We now have 220 dairy cows and there is room for 250.” By monitoring the estrus cycle, the best time to make a cow in heat available for insemination can be automatically determined: “The barn will fill itself,” says Jan Hendrik Deiman assuredly, thanks to GEA CowScout.

Successful first year results and social recognition

“With the extra space in the new barn and the effect of more frequent milking with GEA’s milking robots, milk production has risen significantly in the last year. The average performance of our cows is at around 10,450 liters per cow and year. We are very satisfied,” says Meering proudly in view of the first year’s success. She is full of praise for her local specialized GEA dealer and his expertise: “At the moment, I use a small portion of the milk to produce unpasteurized cheese. I also make yoghurt, kefir, pudding and chocolate milk. I take the milk directly from the milkline behind the filter. The dealer’s service technician set that up for me, supporting me in developing my cheese business. It is very helpful that this wide range of knowledge is available at the GEA dealership. The dealer makes the brand. And the experienced technicians make the dealer. I truly believe this is an important part of the strength and expertise at GEA!”

How robots ensure equality and health in the barn

When the fresh cheese loaves finally lie in their presses during her farm cheese workshops, Meering finds time to give a tour of the barn. “The participants have a very positive attitude towards the animal-friendly and sustainable way we run our dairy farm. This is how, aside from earning money, we try to show the important role agriculture plays in society and to get recognition for it.”

How robots ensure equality and health in the barn
DairyRobot R9500 robotic milking machine

GEA DairyRobot R9500

The GEA DairyRobot R9500 is a robotic milking system focusing on animal health, milk quality and efficiency, so producers can sustainably boost productivity.
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