Labor saving by smart walking

Barns can be more efficient in work operations, protocols and routing. With reference to a recent project, we would like to discuss some principles.

Management, T4C & InHerd

Where to start? 

Most of the time, there is room to improve efficiency in existing barns. When you, as an advisor, are involved in this process at an particular farm there are several ways of approach. Most likely the farmer and/or the employees are working for a longer time in the barn with the same routines and are therefore more or less ‘blind’ to their own working routines and efficiency. As an advisor, you have a fresh and independent view of various barn layouts.


Example out of practice

The larger the dairy farm, the higher the importance and effects of efficiency. Therefore a team of Lely experts recently travelled to the USA to analyze a large dairy farm where efficiency could be improved. During the analysis of this farm it turned out that walking routes and daily routines (SOPs) are of major influence. In addition the number of ‘touches’ of the cows, or in other words how often do you need to touch a cow in combination with the walking routes could be improved.

To give an impression on numbers they sketched the circle as seen in figure 1. With these nine touches per cow per lactation, it means that on a large dairy farm with 1,150 milking cows you will have 10,350 touches(!!!) per year or 29 touches per day. Note that within these touches the daily fetching and other activities are not taken into account. So revising these ‘simple’ touches can have a major influence on the efficiency. For example when spending two unnecessary minutes per touch per day, by illogic walking or tools that are out of reach, nearly one hour is lost.

Figure 1

One of the tools used during this event to make the walking lines visible was by means of a so-called ‘spaghetti-drawing’ (figure 2). A simple, plain drawing of the barn where all walking lines during the working day of the employees where signed in. By making these lines visible on paper it will help you to analyze where the conflicts are and based on that how to advise.

Figure 2


In case of this specific farm it turned out that part of efficiency was lost by too many and/or complicated walking lines across the (different) barn(s). At the moment of writing several changes in routines and SOPs (e.g. monitoring pre-fresh cows) where implemented and reviewed with positive results.

Labor costs have dropped under one dollar per 100 pounds of milk and the farm cut approximately 2 hours per group of two robots per day. Main reasons for these results was to rearrange the handling of groups as short as possible, scrape manure, fetch cows and clean the robots in a short and efficient routine. In addition, eliminating any extra walking and leaving the cows alone as much as possible have contributed to positive results so far.


What can we learn?

Improving efficiency on farms has, amongst others, to do with walking lines, distances, daily routines (SOPs) and location and availability of your tools. When analyzing a farm therefore consider carefully:

- Design group strategy to leave cows in the group during the lactation and prevent losses due to group changes.
- Design and streamline work organization and labor management to get (large) dairies efficient from the start, so everybody knows and understands his or her tasks and responsibilities.
- Make sure the farmer and/or the employees understand to get out of the group(s) to keep unlimited cow flow going.
- Review the daily routines, are they in the correct order or could they be smarter? 
- Make the walking lines visible, where is time lost? E.g. the frequency of cleaning boots? (You can do this by physically walking the routes or even via a App on a smartphone).
- Which actions are taken to separate or fetch a cow? (How far do I need to walk, can routing be applied, can specific tasks be combined?)
- Are all tools / medications in hand at the treatment box /area? 
- On a large dairy farm assign and train a farm employee to focus on robot maintenance to prevent failures and machine issues.