The spirit of innovation and continuous improvement powering more successful and sustainable dairy farms
Welcome back to part II of our Dynamic Dairy Farming interview, featuring some of the people and forces pushing dairy towards a successful and sustainable future. In Part I, we introduced you to GEA engineer Henrik Böttner, responsible for product development for milk and feeding systems at GEA, and his colleague Michael Strotmann, Product Manager for Conventional Milking Systems at GEA, who shared insight on how the components innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement are so key to driving sustainable product development and sustainable dairy farming operations. In Part II, we pick up again with Böttner and Strotmann, who talk about another GEA innovation that embodies all three of these components. We also meet the GEA experts Gudrun Hauser and Jurgen Steen, who introduce us to two additional keys to sustainability in dairy farming – of a different sort.
In the first part of our interview, it quickly became clear that GEA engineers Henrik Böttner (left) and Michael Strotmann (center) have more than just a couple of examples to share when it comes to innovation and continuous improvement in dairy farming technology (certainly more than we could discuss in only one interview). “How can we make our solution even more efficient, farmer-friendly and cow-friendly for even better results?” It turns out, they ask themselves this question all the time. And they wanted to make sure we mention one groundbreaking innovation in particular: GEA’s In-Liner Everything technology.
Another result of GEA’s continuous improvement approach, In-Liner Everything technology is a standard feature in GEA’s DairyRobot R9500 and DairyProQ automated milking systems. Unique on the market, the In-Liner Everything solution assigns an attachment to each individual udder, which then performs every step of the milking process: stimulation, teat cleaning, forestripping, milk harvest and post‑dipping.
“We had several goals when developing In-Liner Everything,” says Böttner. “First, we could see that robots were doing a pretty good job of cleaning teats, but we thought it could be done better in terms of percentage of teats being cleaned as well as cleaning effectiveness. Second, we wanted to speed up the milking process and saw inefficiencies with robots having to make two trips to the cow for prep and milking. Third, we wanted to improve post-dipping coverage of the teat, seeing an opportunity here to better protect cows from mastitis. And finally, we wanted to reduce the amount of movement underneath the cow for a calmer more pleasant milking experience.” Böttner describes In-Liner Everything as the logical next step in the development process, but it is a breakthrough solution nonetheless for the complete milking process.
Available to farmers since the introduction of the DairyProQ in 2014, its benefits include enhanced milk quality and quantity, faster flow rate during milking, complete milking out on all four udder quarters while preventing over-milking, enhanced teat cleaning and hygiene, while also minimizing the amount of teat dip required.
GEA customers Alida Meering and partner Jan Hendrik Deiman run a dairy farm in the Netherlands, currently with some 220 cows. As part of their quest to make this family farm more sustainable, they invested in four GEA milking robots, which they brought online in early 2020. “We’ve been impressed by the gentle milking with the In-Liner Everything technology; we’re seeing udder health significantly improved, including a somatic cell count at 100,000 – a great result!” says Meering, who also reports a significant jump in milk production thanks to more frequent milking. “For us, In-Liner Everything is a more or less invisible improvement with a big positive impact – everything from healthy, happier more productive cows, to lower operating costs, to less chemicals required. This is the absolute foundation for sustainable dairy farming.”
Key #4: Customer is king
Jurgen Steen is GEA’s Sales Manager for Automated Milking Systems based in Australia. “The potential efficiency gains of automatic milking are enormous,” says Steen. “Cows milk themselves in the most animal friendly way possible, milking frequencies can be varied on a cow level, feeding can be adjusted on a cow level and a lot of data is generated to help management decision making, especially regarding animal health and reproduction.” But as Steen makes clear, matching the AMS design to the individual farm is critical to achieving sustainability gains. “One important part of my job is to teach our sales teams that selling GEA AMS solutions is more than just selling a piece of machinery,” he says. “It is part of a much larger project that must take many additional aspects into account.” Steen talks about the “AMS journey” for GEA customers transitioning to automated milking systems. GEA’s support begins by asking customers a long list of questions – everything from herd size to cow breed, animal environment, labor availability on the farm, feeding systems or the farm’s operational targets 10 to 15 years down the road. “Designing the system accordingly is the key to its effectiveness,” says Steen. “Design does not just support the solution; design is a solution.”
Currently focused on farmers in Australia and New Zealand, Steen describes the typical conditions Down Under: herd sizes between 200 and 1200 cows, mild winters, milk production that is seasonal and pasture based, cows calving in blocks at a time in line with the grass growing season. And with large numbers of calves, comes large amounts of colostrum to collect. “These are conditions where our systems need to handle very large volumes of milking very reliably, and this was certainly among the drivers for GEA increasing the speed and capacity of its AMS with enhancements like In-Liner Everything,” says Steen. “The new generation of our AMS makes high-volume colostrum collection much easier for our customers, and making life easier for farmers is actually a big sustainability factor, including the aspect of workplace attractivity.”
For Gudrun Hauser, Herd Manager at GEA since 2017, sustainability is all about knowing the farmer. “Ultimately, every farm wants to be more sustainable in some way,” she says. “The basic question for the farmer is: What exactly do I want to achieve or what aspect do I want to improve? Do I want more time and flexibility? Do I want to improve the health of my herd? Are my cows getting the optimal diet, do I have too much feed loss? We offer a consultation as early as possible together with veterinarians and feed advisors in order to get to know not only the farm’s location but also the farmer and the herd.” Hauser sees an automated milking system as an important piece of the puzzle – a part of a holistic solution. “If we can coordinate these many factors well – the people, equipment, systems and herd – that’s when a dairy farm can fully exploit its potential and operate sustainably.”
Key #5: Cow is queen
With the digital and automation technologies available today, GEA engineers can customize solutions to match not only regional conditions and individual farm requirements, but also the individual cow. For Steen, this represents a burgeoning new frontier in dairy farming. “On one level we have milking robots that can adjust to specific udder geometries for more comfortable milking – and we’re seeing what a difference that can make.” But the real power, says Steen, is in the data generated by automated systems and herd management systems such as DairyNet and CowScout. “To me the main aspect for sustainable milk production moving forward is herd management on the cow level using the power of data on each individual cow. So each cow has their own milking sequence, their own feeding program. Their nutritional requirements can be met better, they can stay healthy for a long happy productive life. So we further unlock the cow’s potential in a very animal friendly and sustainable way.”
Even with herd sizes likely to be 2 to 3 times bigger than today in the future, the power of data and digitalization, says Steen, will allow farmers to look after cows individually on a day-to-day basis. Steen calls the use of cow data in dairy farming a “gold mine” that the industry has only just begun to tap. “Leveraging this data will allow cows to live much longer, healthier and happier lives – and be more productive as a result.” Beyond this, Steen sees opportunities to breed cows to better fit specific regional conditions, cows that produce milk with more specific nutritional profile, and cows that can generate specific proteins that bring other human health benefits.
“So it is indeed a challenging time for dairy farmers, but also a very exciting time with a lot of opportunity for innovation and positive impact,” says Steen. “So we definitely want them to succeed.”
Watch the complete live interview with all experts on GEAs sustainable product development here.