Matthew Laity created a scale model of the new robot barn the family is building. (Special to The News)

Matthew Laity created a scale model of the new robot barn the family is building. (Special to The News)

VIDEO: Maple Ridge dairy farmers building robot barn

Robot will milk cows 24 hours a day

A prominent Maple Ridge dairy farming family is making the move to robotic milking.

The Laity family is building another barn on their property, Brookfield Farm, just off of 123 Avenue beside Laity View elementary, that will have room for up to 80 cows in addition to housing the robotic milking machine. It will also have an attached dairy, equipment room, and office.

Milking robots were introduced to the industry about 20 years ago, explained Matthew Laity.

“I’ve been wanting one ever since,” he said, oozing with excitement.

Basically with a robot, cows are in control of their own milking schedule. They are free to walk into the milking stall, that will be located in a little room in the center of the barn, any time they wish. A gate will automatically shut behind them. In the trough in front of them will be a treat of grain.

Then a robotic arm will get to work. First it cleans the teats before putting a suction device on each, one at a time. When the machine is finished milking, the suction device on each of the four teats drops off and then the robotic arm disinfects the teats before opening the gate to allow the animal out of the milking stall.

Cows, said Laity, will be totally free. They will have access to beds, feed, and the robot milker 24 hours every day. An automatic alley scraper will keep the manure out.

And, since the Laity farm is organic, his cows will also have 24 hour access to a pasture. In the spring, said Laity, his cows will be able to spend days out, and in the summer they will be able to spend nights outside when the temperature is cooler.

“Typically with a robot barn the cows are kept in the barn all the time. But I’m going to add the option to leave. That’s a fourth option the cows have any time,” he explained.

This process is much less stressful for the animals, said Laity, and it frees both the farmer and the animal from the typical 12-hour schedule – a schedule that allows the farmer to go home after a long day, even though some cows may need to be milked more often.

And the robot, a DeLaval VMS V300, is also smart. It won’t let a cow in to be milked if they’ve just been in the milking stall.

“If they haven’t been away from the robot long enough to have enough milk to be worth milking, the robot won’t allow the cow in,” explained Laity.

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It will also produce a list, twice a day, of cows that haven’t been to the robot recently.

All this information is transmitted from the cow to the robot by a collar each cow will be wearing. Other important health information like how much the cow is eating, how much the cow weighs, and how much milk the cow is producing will also be monitored.

“So it will alert me, probably quicker than I would notice with my eye, if she is not feeling well – and that’s one of the things I am looking forward to,” he said.

And, the robot knows how much milk each cow should be producing. So if a cow’s milk production is going up, the robot will increase the grain in the cow’s diet. Or if a cow is not producing well, the robot will give the cow less grain. The robot can manage the cows individually, while right now, Laity can only manage his herd as a group.

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Currently, Laity milks cows in a barn that was built in the 1960’s using a pipeline milking system where they have to bring the milking machine to the cow. Most farms now have a milking parlour where cows walk into a stall to be milked.

Laity estimates that a single cow on his farm has been milked 1.5 million times in his existing barn.

The family has been dairy farming on the property since 1879.

There are 140 cows in total on Laity’s farm, and currently 70 are milking. The others include young stock that are not yet lactating and dry cows that are between lactation.

Laity estimates that it takes about seven minutes to milk a cow with their current setup. The robot, he said, may be a little slower as it will also do a self wash between cow visits. However, with the ability to milk day or night, he is hoping to be able to milk fewer cows and have a higher yield of milk.

He will be pushing for an average of three milkings a day, but that will be up to the cow.

“At the beginning of her lactation she may want to be in there five times a day. Towards the end she may only be in there one and a half times a day. Whatever she wants,” he said.

The new barn will be 180×70 feet, with a steel frame and a translucent roof, noted Laity, comparing the barn’s roof to B.C. Place.

“This will be the best of being outside without being in the rain,” he said.

Construction on the building has already started a,nd Laity hopes to be moving cows into it by mid-June.

Laity is hoping that he will be able to add a second robot one day.

For now, he said, he’s spent all his money at this point.

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