Unlike several other sectors of agriculture, mechanisation in dairy farming started very late and at a low pace. This was because milk production was never a ‘priority’ and was considered as subsidiary source of income for the last several decades. Few local breeds of cows or buffaloes were housed mainly for draught purpose, then for cow dung, manuring agricultural lands and then for milk. The surplus milk was consumed in household or sold in village itself. This picture changed after launching of the Operation Flood programme. Today milk production has become bread-and-butter for millions of rural families.
Since the dairy industry was a subsidiary source of income nobody thought of having improvement and convenience in the milk production process. Even when advanced milk processing and packaging technologies were being used in the country; on the milk production side, farmers and veterinarians were still unaware of benefits of ‘machine milking’. The only mechanisation available was a chaff cutter. Even for its use, the farmer was required to be convinced.
With fast urbanisation, demand for milk and milk products increased and so did the requirement of urban labour. As a result, there has been shortage of farm labour in rural areas. This made farmers to think of mechanisation. Division of joint families also made a significant impact on unavailability of family labour for farming.
Due to globalisation and free trade policies, the challenge facing the Indian dairy industry is milk quality and productivity of farm animals. In this context, farm mechanisation will certainly bring another revolution in the years to come.
Scope of Mechanisation
Farm mechanisation is a vast subject. Basic input needs like milking, feeding, watering and manure handling are major activities that could be mechanised on priority. However, other areas like cow comfort and herd management could be considered depending upon size of the farm and requirement of automation level.
Figure 1: Input and output – Scope for mechanisation
ADVANTAGES OF MECHANISATION
Convenience and consistency: Mechanisation in dairy farms provides convenience and consistency of milking process. Milking of dairy animals is a critical activity and machine milking ensures consistency throughout the lactation of the animal with gentle handling of teats.
Complete milking: The simulation and milking process by a mechanised process is both consistent and smooth. This helps in ensuring a smooth let down by the milch animal which in turn helps in complete milking thus providing more milk per milking.
Dependability: Today milking, feeding, watering to dairy animals and manure handling are critical areas where the dependency on human labour is unavoidable. In case of absence of labour, the farm operations are at stake and dairy farmer even though having sufficient infrastructure does not dare to expand his farm business. Mechanisation certainly addresses these concerns.
Milk quality: Microbial quality of milk can be achieved with the help of mechanisation. For example, machine milking prevents human interference in milk handling and thus high quality raw milk can be produced. However, to have consistent quality, it is important to follow good cleaning practices of milking installation.
Mechanisation in Marginal Farms
In India, the average farm herd size is between 3-5 animals. The number of farms up to 5 animals is 85-90 per cent of the total. Accommodating these small household farms in mechanisation process is a big challenge.
The marginal dairy farms today are using equipment like chaff cutter, a bicycle/motorcycle to bring in fodder and deliver milk to the collection centre. They certainly need mechanisation for milking as well. DeLaval took up this challenge and offered solution in the form of Bosio milking solutions and basic pipeline solutions.
To install a milking machine in the vicinity of small farms with 3-4 milking heads was a dream at Phaltan in Maharashtra and Kolar in Karnataka. DeLaval has successfully designed a solution called as Community Machine Milking Centres at both these places.
A Community Machine Milking Centre
Farmers bring their cows to the Community Machine Milking Centre where a six-cluster milking machine or a basic pipeline is installed. The milkman or farmers milk their own animals with the milking system and deliver the milk to the milk recording system and then to bulk milk cooler installed in an adjacent room. The facility for testing sub-clinical mastitis (CMT Kit), Teat Dipping Facility and timely cleaning of machine is followed on regular basis. The milk producers of village Vidni of Phaltan Taluka have witnessed eradication of mastitis due to the hygienic milking practices. Not only this, they also received bonus of increased recovery due to complete milking of high yielding cows within 4-5 minutes stipulated time. This Centre can also become a platform for breeding and productivity improvement as monitoring animals and a window to reach small milk producers of that village. This concept is driving progress in milk production and needs to be supported financially.
Today the farmers in Phaltan have moved ahead, increasing their herd size and installed individual milking machines. There are more than 80 community milking centres being operated in Kolar and Mandya districts of Karnataka since the last 14 years.
Mechanisation in Large Scale Farms
Milking: It is the most crucial activity on any dairy farm, irrespective of quantity of milk production. It needs adequate skill to milk the cow/buffalo completely within 7 minutes. Hand milking is a skillful activity that requires physical strength as well. Milking machines have relieved dairy farmers from clutches of professional hand-milkers at economical price. Milking machines were introduced in India in 1993 and more than 15,000 farms are now equipped with DeLaval milking systems. A small farm with 6-20 milking cows can use a Bosio milking machine. For farm with higher size, it is recommended to install pipeline system wherein milk goes straight into pipeline and then into a bulk milk cooler. Some of the solutions working successfully in India for large farms on different mechanisation and automation levels are Flat-Barn Parlours, MidiLine Tandem parlours, Herringbone, Parallel, Rotary parlours.
Turn Style Rotary Parlour Tied-up Milking Barns
Feeding: A balanced diet is the central part of any livestock production and entire farm economy revolves around cost of feeding. Upon analysing the exact need of individual animal/herd based on production, the cost of feeding can be reduced to less than 50 per cent of the total cost.
Feeding of animals with correct mixtures, at right time with minimal use of labour and with lowest wastage of feed is the key success factor in dairy farming. A chaff cutter is first stage of mechanisation of feeding where 30-40 per cent savings in cost of fodder has been observed. Mixing the ingredients and dispersing them into mangers can be done with the help of Total Mixed Ration (TMR) mixing wagons. In the loose housing barns with large dairy herds, TMR is a poplar concept and TMR feeding wagons are now available for this purpose. With only one or two operators, a large dairy herd of over 500 animals can be efficiently fed by using these TMR wagons.
Vertical Mobile Feed Mixture
Manure handling: The most laborious and unpleasant work in a dairy farm is manure handling. If cow dung is not removed properly and timely, it attracts flies, diseases and makes dairy animals uncomfortable. Fortunately, high technology mechanical solutions for manure handling are now available where with only push of a button, the manure can be removed to dung pits or lagoons.
Cow comfort and herd management: “A comfortable cow produces more milk” and so cow comfort has high importance in dairy farming. Mechanisation further enhances animal comfort by creating comfortable floor, ventilation, drinking, grooming, calf feeding activities. This is achieved by installing facilities for automatic water drinking, grooming, calf feeding, dairy fans, calf feeding systems, etc.
It is also necessary to identify best performing, better performing and low performing animals for better profitability. The criteria can be based on milk production, feed consumption, inter-calving period, number of lactations and so on. This can be monitored with the help of accurate records. A high level automated herd management ALPRO/DELPRO system can provide the history, current position and things to be done in future for individual animal as well as entire herd on your desktop/laptop or even on your smart phone. This helps the farmer to monitor farm operations and plan resources.
An automated herd management system addresses following functions with records of more than 1,000 animals:
- Milking performance of individual cow
- Milking performance of herd
- Lactation yield
- Average milk yield
- Intercalving period
- Milk flow
- Breeding and conception details
- Feed consumption records
- Separation of sick animals
- Heat detection through activity meter
- Equipment performance
- Worker efficiency.
In short, it can give a clear picture about the “profitable animals” in the farm which are to be kept and their young ones to be preserved for breeding. The low performing animals, thus, can be sold out to increase herd average and profitability.
PREREQUISITES FOR MECHANISATION
Approach: The basic requisite for automation in dairy farming is ‘approach’. The milk production business should be considered as a commercial activity and thus mechanisation should be planned in such a way so as to derive maximum benefits from the operation.
Size of operation: Mechanisation in any process is feasible if the size of operation is on a larger scale. It is expected that the utilisation of machinery is done at minimum 70-80 per cent on an average. As the size of operation increases, upgradation of machinery becomes more feasible.
Infrastructure: Mechanisation includes operation of machines. The dairy sheds must be planned adequately to accommodate facilities for mechanisation and its future upgradation. Adequate availability of power at stable voltage is basic need of any machinery. Unfortunately power is a scarce commodity in India. The critical operations like milking, feeding and milk cooling don’t have any alternatives and thus a dairy farmer has to make alternative power arrangements which need sizeable investment. On commercial farms, electrical power can be opted through biogas, solar, wind mills. Solar energy can also be utilised and the capital investment on it needs to be subsidised to encourage self sufficient farms for electric power. However since this may not be possible on all small farms, at least it should be ensured that there is adequate and uninterrupted power supply at milking time in the morning and evening.
Manpower: Availability of technical manpower is another requisite for mechanisation. Today the manpower engaged in dairy farming is illiterate and thus the management is done in traditional way. Training of human resource would certainly help in achieving the objectives of profitability, milk quality and use of machines. Rather than just educating about health care and AI, the curriculum for farm workers must also include handling of hardware as well as software tools. Dairy farm automation is now equipped with advanced technologies where use of computer is unavoidable. The future farm managers should be trained to handle this new technology.
Mechanisation of dairy farm activities is need of the hour. Today solutions on farm automation are available across the country. Based on their features, durability, feasibility, upgradation facility and after sales support, one has to ensure mechanisation at the best possible level.