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KBS Studies Pasture-based, Robotic Milking System

Mat Haan
MSU Kellogg Biological Station

KBS stall
The new KBS free-stall barn (Photo: M. Haan)

In the fall of 2008 the Michigan State University (MSU) Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) broke ground on the construction of a new free-stall dairy barn in preparation for the transition from a conventional dairy management system to a pasture-based dairy management system with automatic (robotic) milking. The transition to the pasture-based system and development of the Pasture Dairy Research and Education Center is funded with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and additional support from Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Michigan State University Provost Office and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Converting to a pasture-based dairy system at KBS diversifies MSU’s research and outreach capabilities, allowing MSU to inform a small but growing number of pasture-based dairy producers in the state. The pasture-based dairy project also fits well with other projects at KBS, including the Long-Term Ecological Research and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center projects, which support research and outreach in alternative agricultural practices.

The new free-stall barn is located in the middle of a 160-acre irrigated pasture and is equipped with two Lely Astronaut A3 Robotic Milking Systems. The large pasture and a smaller 32-acre pasture were seeded in the spring of 2008 to a 5-species pasture mix consisting of alfalfa, red clover, white clover, orchard grass, and tall fescue.

At capacity a 120-cow milking herd plus dry cows and heifers will be maintained at the farm. Both pastures are sub-divided for rotational grazing of cows and heifers during the grazing season. During the grazing season the majority of a cows’ feed intake comes from pasture with some concentrate fed during milking. When pasture is not available lactating cows are housed in the new barn and fed a ration of conserved forages (mainly hay, haylage, and grass silage) and concentrate during milking.

During the grazing season cows will be able to enter and exit the barn throughout the day to allow access to the robotic milkers and pasture. Robotic milking systems, or Automatic Milking Systems (AMS), allow cows to be milked on a voluntary basis anytime throughout the day. These systems have been used in Europe since the early 1990s. In recent years the technology has been adopted in Canada and into the US. The Kellogg Biological Station is the second dairy in Michigan to adopt robotic milking technology. The presence of AMS technology at the KBS dairy allows MSU researchers to evaluate this technology and demonstrate its use to Michigan dairy producers.Greater flexibility in the daily routine on the farm is often given as a major benefit of the technology. A dairy producer still needs to check the herd and ensure the AMS is functioning properly but he/she is no longer tied to a set milking schedule. This greater flexibility allows more time to be involved in other aspects of the farm operation or family and community activities.

An additional benefit of AMS technology is that the dairy producer has a large amount of information available on the quantity and quality of milk each cow produces at each milking, allowing the dairy manager to make informed decisions on the management of individual animals in the herd.

The new free-stall barn was designed and constructed to meet the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification as defined by the U.S. Green Builders Council.

A LEED certified building must be designed and constructed in ways that decrease the environmental impact of the building during construction and over the life-time of the building and promotes the well-being of building occupants. Design and construction practices that conserve energy and water and promote the sustainable use of natural resources are central to the LEED certification process. The KBS dairy barn is the first agricultural building to seek this certification.

Research and outreach activities will focus on issues important to small- and mid-sized dairy operations but will also look beyond the farm to issues that are important to the consumer and society.

Dr. Janice Siegford, MSU Department of Animal Science, and her research group are conducting the first research at the new dairy facility this summer as they monitor the transition to the new system.

This summer, they are focusing on how the transition from a conventional dairy facility with three-time per day milking to a pasture-based dairy with voluntary milking will impact cow behavior, health, and performance and which animals adjust better to the new system.

Dr. Siegford plans to continue an active research program at the KBS dairy utilizing a series of video cameras that will allow her to monitor cow behavior and social interactions.

On August 19, 2009 KBS will host a Grand Opening at the new dairy facility. A dedication ceremony will begin at 9:30AM followed by a VIP tour of the new facility. From 1:00PM to 4:40PM the dairy will be open to the public for self-guided tours.

Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the new facility, learn about all aspects of the dairy including the robotic milking system and LEED certification, and visit with Michigan State University faculty, staff, and students about research, education, and outreach at the dairy.

The dairy is located at 10461 N 40th Street, Hickory Corners, MI. If you have questions regarding the Grand Opening or general questions about the dairy, contact Mat Haan, Pasture Dairy Research and Education Center Project Coordinator, at 269-671-2360 or by e-mail at haanm@msu.edu.





July 09 Issue

Animal Welfare
Keeping up-to-date with welfare of dairy cattle.

KBS Studies Pasture-based Milking
KBS transitions from conventional system to pasture-based milking.

Rumensin Toxicity in Heifers
A case report about acute monensin toxicity in a Michigan dairy farm.

Climate Change and Cows
An opinion on the climate change debate.

Management "Tips"
A series of "tips" aimed at assisting dairy producers especially in the current harsh economic climate.

New Faculty Members
Welcoming two new faculty members into Animal Science.

North American Dairy Challenge
MSU participation at the New York event.

Things Your Dad
Told You
Some manure application lessons.

Don't Run Off..
Reducing run-off from pastures.

Maximizing Intake
of Corn Silage

How corn silage affect energy intake and animal performance.

Calendar of Events