A toll gate style retrofit

jeff prashaw, january 2016

See a toll gate style retro layout prepared for a dairy producer in Wisconsin. We’ll take a closer look at two major challenges we needed to overcome:  fitting four VMS robots and adding more feed bunk space to a four-row freestall layout with one feed bunk.

When presented with the dimensions of the existing barn we quickly realized fitting four robots, a Commitment Pen, and Separation Pen in a Milk- first layout with Smart Gates would be our tallest hurdle.

Having been through this situation enough we turned to investigating a toll gate style arrangement of the robots. We did this for several reasons, the most important to point out is we often look first at aligning the direction of cow flow through the robots with the longest dimension of the barn, or parallel to the roof ridge line, as the “fit and flow” is typically better.

In this instance they certainly fit better, all things considered, but it became obvious when we looked at arranging the robots perpendicular to the longest dimension of the barn as an alternative… they won’t fit! One of the things that we will change with this design is the amount of space allocated for the Commitment Pen.

We like to give cows a comfortable experience when waiting in the Commitment Pen and this can be achieved by assuming a maximum of six cows per VMS at one time and giving each cow ~45 sq ft (~4.1 sq m) of space. In this case we would meet those thresholds by adding 4 ft (1.2 m) which would require removing four freestalls from the ends of the rows.

The other major challenge faced when preparing the design were four rows of freestalls for one feed bunk, which results in less than 12” (300 mm) per cow at the feed wall.

This is not recommended because less feed will be available and competition for feed will be evident leading to lower DMI and decreased cow flow. Cow flow is integral to the success of any voluntary milking system. We were able to overcome this problem here by extending the feed bunk beyond the length of the freestalls and crossovers, allowable because the feed bunk is separate from the freestall barn.

Granted, the design is still under the preferred feed bunk space of 30” per cow but this can often be the case in a retrofit. In these instances we need to be very clear with producers of the
potential issues with below recommended feed bunk space.

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