They can tell you what to expect from your herd days before any visual signs appear, keeping you in the know and giving you a head start to troubleshoot if trouble is brewing… 159 cows gather outside the gate of the dairy drawn by the loud drone of the milking robot.
It is exactly 5:00pm and at Westside dairies, Kitale milking is about to begin. Given the large number of the cows I am surprised to see only two employees manning the dairy. They tell me they normally carry out the task in a record 2 hours without breaking a sweat – this includes washing and shutting down the dairy.
The farm’s veterinary doctor Mr Kirui, a dark, towering gentleman casually dressed in black trousers, a cream shirt and sporting black gumboots is on site and today he doubles up as our guide.
“We use the milking robot to manage the dairy section. This is a cow management system from Israel which uses electronic tags fastened around the cows neck and synchronized to a computer software system to collect data “, says Kirui as he takes us through the computer located in a raised room which overlooks the dairy.
“The collar records lots of information about the cow and gives regular updates in the form of an email. Data such as heat periods, fertility, milk production, health, breeding, physical activity of the cow, feeding is captured and I use this information to analyse exactly what condition the cow is in,” he adds.
Kirui tells us that sometimes he receives a call from one of the directors who is miles away inquiring about a certain animal on the farm, having received an alert from the system.
“The milking robot has made many of the processes easy and we are able to manage our herd of 500 animals with a limited staff of about 10”,he tells us The cows begin to gather as soon as they hear the loud rumble of the robot while some begin dripping milk. The robot is handled by the Dairy manager.
It has a main door which is opened using a lever and the cows stream in positioning themselves in the compartmentalised milking pens. The side bars slide closed as each cow enters effectively locking it inside. “Our system is such that it needs to be aided by two workers. The first worker washes the teats with a disinfectant while the second wipes them dry. They both then begin attaching the four arms of the milking robot to each teat and the milking process begins,” adds Kirui A small screen displays the name of the cow in red and accesses all data about the cow including how many liters of milk are expected.
The cow removes robots arms using her hind legs. However should she do this before the required liters are collected, the system flashes a warning and the technician will come and re-attach them till the machine stops flashing indicating that it’s done with the particular cow.
All this takes a maximum of 7-8 minutes. “The robot milks 20 cows at a go and If a cow comes in twice It will not repeat the process. If the cow is recorded as being on antibiotics or having an ailment such as mastitis milking will not take place either, until a bucket specifically for contaminated milk is connected “, he tells us.
The robot can also milk three teats and leave a fourth if only one of the teat is infected. “To understand the data I combine different factors from the robot. For example low activity and low rumination (feeding) means the cow is sick and I will immediately inspect it and diagnose the problem.