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Ready to Expand? Compare Your Options

Bill Oppriecht
Home > Education & Events > June 2018 > Ready to Expand? Compare Your Options

Build new or retrofit? That is the question facing many dairy producers looking to integrate an Automated Milking System (AMS) into their operation. When making this important decision, it’s  important to carefully look at both options and consider all possibilities.

When looking at AMS, dairy producers have these goals in mind: reducing labor cost, increasing milk production, lowering stress on cows and people, and a more focused management of individual cows with data available. Research shows that reducing labor cost isn’t consistent across the board. Some farms report limited savings while other farms report labor savings of up to 30%.  With different business model’s and scale, it is important to focus on factors to increase productivity; milking frequency, nutrition, cow comfort, etc. to realize gains in herd production to offset the investment of AMS.

Retrofitting AMS into a current facility can be challenging. A major factor with retrofitting, is barn design, ensuring optimal cow traffic flow is a must. Additionally, you should evaluate the existing free stall barn’s overall condition and cow comfort needs. A calm and stress free environment will return higher production and quality of milk. Other factors to consider are distance to the robot, pen size in the barn, manure management, footbath location and ventilation. One major benefit to the retrofit is the initial cost.

Building an AMS facility can allow all aspects to be designed to fit your management style. Cow comfort and cow flow is a top priority. Future expansion in the design process, could also be a consideration. One current trend we are seeing is the utilization of the current facility with a separate AMS milking facility.

With the separate AMS facility, the cows that can’t be milked by the robot or are unwilling to adapt to the robot can be milked at the existing facility. Instead of having to cull this group of cows immediately, these cows can be retained and milked. Another benefit is the existing facility can be used until it is fully depreciated. It can later be used for heifer housing if the AMS facility were expanded. When building on a green site it is important to involve all members of your advisory team to get their input. A green site project will take a substantial upfront investment and will require a long term commitment to gain a return on the investment. 

It is important to consider your budget and financial position when considering these decisions. We recommend involving your lender and other members of your advisory team early in these conversions to ensure maximum profitability. Your advisory team needs to understand the goals and direction of your operation to best aid in the decision making process. The decisions you make during this process will not only affect you and your financial well-being, but also set your operation up for success for years to come. With the current state of the dairy environment decisions such as this couldn’t be more important.      

Bill Oppriecht is a Dairy Lending Specialist at Compeer Financial. For more insights from Bill and the rest of the Compeer Financial Dairy Team, visit
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