In today’s mechanized society, more and more jobs being done with evolving technology rather than by hand.
While things like checking cattle with drones and a camera or using a smartphone to take a credit card payment at a farmers market might make some farmers shake their heads, technology does have it’s place in the agriculture industry.
It has been used to make this noble trade safer, faster, and more efficient. One of the latest trends in agricultural technology is robotic milking systems. It’s certainly a long ways from the days of milking cows by hand, but robotic milking systems might just be the way the future of dairy is headed.
Milking with a robotic system is different than milking by hand. The idea of a robotic system, or Automatic Milking System (AMS), is designed to accommodate cows as part of a set group being milked at a set time, or to accommodate voluntary milking, where the cow chooses when she feels like being milked and can enter the system at her leisure anytime during a 24-hour period. Since the system is fully automated, there is not always a need for a farmer presence. The milking unit is comprised of a milking machine, a teat position sensor, which is typically a laser, a teat cleaner, a robotic arm for automatic teat-cup application and removal, and a gate system for controlling cow traffic.
Investing in a robotic milking system is an expensive endeavor – according to Hoards Dairyman, an AMS system for 55 to 60 cows can cost $180,000 to $220,000, so it is important to do your research before installing one of these in your milking barn.
Larry Tranel, the dairy field specialist from the Iowa State University Extension, did a study evaluating new technology, such as an AMS.
The study showed that farmers should consider the “cash-flow ability” of the farm versus the “net-financial impact and quality of life” when making such a large and important purchase decision.
Labor and the cost associated with it is obviously a large part of a dairy operation. A robotic milking system can help save on labor costs, but ultimately the profitability of an AMS system is going to depend on management. In order for a robotic milking system to truly help producers make money, there must be increased milk production from the cows.
Proper nutrition and management practices can help a dairy farmer achieve this. In an article on, Dairy Editor Jim Dickrell suggests that increasing milk production through improved management or higher quality feed can be achieved through the labor that is freed up by the robotic milking system.
Keep current milk prices in mind when thinking about purchasing a robotic milking system is important.
“A $17.50-per-cwt average price might be break even in some herds with high milk production,” Dickrell stated. “A $20 price could typically push robots into profitability, but a $15 average would bleed budgets red.”
While a robotic milking system might not work for every farm, it is certainly something to consider as your operation continues to grow and change, and as the industry continues to move into the future.


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