WHEN it comes to equipment in robotic dairies, bigger is not always better, as FutureDairy energy audits showed.
Gabriel Hakim, AgVet Projects, undertook energy assessments on 10 farms with automatic milking systems (AMS).
One of his key findings was that most AMS dairies were operating with equipment that was oversized for the needs of automatic milking, resulting in unnecessary electricity consumption.
“When building an AMS it can be tempting to repurpose equipment from the existing dairy but automatic milking can place quite different demands on equipment to conventional milking,” Gabriel said.
For example, the milking equipment on AMS farms operating with voluntary cow movement operates at a low capacity for up to 20 hours a day, compared with conventional milking which usually occurs in two intensive milking sessions a day.
“Operating equipment that is not sized correctly runs a real risk of loss in energy efficiency and excessive energy use.”
Gabriel found that many of the AMS dairies in the study had an oversized compressor.
Some also had vacuum pumps that were much bigger than required and most had hot water systems suitable for a conventional dairy which was bigger than needed for an AMS.
“Operating oversize or over-capacity equipment wastes a considerable amount of energy.
“For example if you are running a grossly oversized vacuum pump, a significant proportion of the energy can be used just driving the pump.
“The same is likely for compressors. Studies in other industries where compressed air is used have shown that as much as 30 to 50 per cent of energy consumption was used to service leaks, artificial demand and system inefficiencies.
“This warrants further investigation for AMS dairies.”
When planning an AMS, Gabriel recommended weighing up the savings made in capital outlay – by retaining existing equipment – against the longer term operating costs.
FutureDairy Project Leader, Associate Professor Kendra Kerrisk said that although energy consumption was higher in AMS than conventional milking systems, energy consumption was a relatively small part of the overall economics of robotic milking.
“Higher energy costs certainly don’t mean that AMS is uneconomic. In fact although shed running costs are commonly reported to be higher, animal health and labour costs are significantly lower on many AMS farms resulting in a favourable bottom line,” she said.
The AMS energy study was funded through Dairy Australia’s project Smarter Energy Use on Australian Dairy Farms, funded by the Department of Industry and Science as part of the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program.
Bigger is not always better