Ten Questions on Precision Dairy Management with Jack Rodenburg

Two years ago in March 2010, in Toronto, we held the First North American Conference on Precision Dairy Management.  Jack Rodenburg was a driving force behind this highly successful conference.

Jack has spoken on dairy management and design of dairy cattle housing at many scientific and technical conferences around the world.  Through his consulting business, Dairylogix, in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, he has designed many new and renovated robotic milking barns.  At a recent dairy housing design course for dairy farmers, Jack took a few minutes away from teaching to answer 10 questions on precision dairy management.

1. Jack, in 2010, you said that Ontario was leading North America in the adoption of robotic milking and precision dairy management technology.  Is Ontario still the leader in adoption of precision management in North America?

Yes.  Much of what is happening in precision technology in general is linked to robotic milking, and that is driven by labour costs and lifestyle on family run dairies. Industrial Ontario has high labour costs and dairies are the ideal size for robotics. Ontario Is still leading but other areas are catching up.  For example, pedometry has become a standard technology across Canada, and the USA is starting to go that way now as well.

2. What has changed in the technology in the last 2 years?

Most of the technologies are getting better, and the best ones are developing a stronger connection to mainstream dairy equipment and service suppliers. That makes them more accessible and acceptable to farmers. Since development of new technology is all in private hands, it is impossible to know what is coming, but I have a sense that adoption is catching up with development.

3. What forces are at play in dairying that are leading dairy farmers to buy into precision management

Higher labour costs is the main one, but other things come into play as well. For example in pedometry an aversion to needling and hormones is a factor, and interest in having better management information drives things like rumination monitoring and in line milk analysis for health and reproductive parameters.   

In the US better economic returns are making it possible for farms to look at new technology investment again.

4. Is milk quota limiting adoption of technology?

Stability in the market helps because there is reliable cash flow.  A lot is happening quicker in markets where there are limits on increasing herd size, because farms in these areas can only improve income by increasing efficiency and productivity. In places where it is not practical to build a 3000 cow dairy, we need efficient family run operations and robotic milking is a great tool for them. many other precision technologies are equally valuable on large farms, but when the alternative is to increase cash flow through more economy of scale using traditional tools there are more choices for new investment.

5. Robotic milking has been viewed as not economical in larger herds.  Is that changing?

If "larger" means 300 to 600 cows, herds in that size range are experiencing good results and good returns from investment in robotic milking. These herds especially appreciate the labour saving and the reduced demands on management to deal with employees. But if "large means herds over 1000 cows the uptake there is slower, although I think it is just a matter of time before that changes as well. 

6. What is coming in the next 2-3 years?

More commercial players in robotic milking, and more options to choose from in a more competitive marketplace. I also expect better integration of sensor data and better diagnostic capabilities made possible by bringing together information from different sources. For example, in diagnosing mastitis the standard today is to give the herdowner a set of really good data. What is coming is integration of all that data into one predictive value the farmer can use to make decisions.  This will help us especially in the cow health area.

7. Is the field becoming more competitive or more consolidated?

Both.  There is consolidation of technologies within the bigger companies which provide market access, service and support, but as these companies put together their "packages" of precision technologies, this will lead to more competition in the marketplace.

 You spend your time consulting with producers who are changing over to robotic milking –

8. Is there a certain type of farmer suited to changing to robotic milking?

Yes.  You need someone who is highly aware and a good manager, but willing to stand back and let the technology work.  This is not always the same type of person who was a good manager with traditional technology.

9. What are their biggest needs?

Willingness to change feeding practices, a good barn design, and perhaps a good technical understanding of what they are working with, and of course the industry support to give them this expertise.

 10. What is the most exciting aspect of precision dairy management?

To me, it is our ability to refocus on the individual cow. Grandpa was a good dairyman if he understood and responded to the individual cow, but without a lot of tools to work with he could only do this for 25 or 30 cows. Dad was driven by economic forces to learn to manage groups of cows in large herds and he lost the focus on the individual animals. Precision management technology allows us to focus back on the individual cow, and I am confident we can make her healthier, happier, more productive and more profitable as a result.

Jack practices dairy barn design specializing in robotic milking under the name Dairylogix.  His website is www.dairylogix.com

-PDM Web editor


Complete conference proceedings for the first North American Conference on Precision Dairy Management are now available free of charge on the Precision Dairy Management website.

The Proceedings include 57 plenary and session papers, as well as abstracts of posters and the dairy farmer panel. The conference held in March, 2010, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, attracted leading researchers, technologists, private industry, and dairy farmers from across North America and 18 countries around the world to share the latest research and experiences with precision dairy farming and using precision technology.

Precision dairy management is automation using sensor-based management tools that define animal needs and robotic equipment that automatically delivers individual cow management applications. In the same way that mechanization and expansion have improved productivity in the last 20 years, precision technologies will drive dairy industry progress in future. The conference brought together presentations from world class research and development in precision dairy farming in nutrition, robotic milking, automation, dairy cattle health, reproduction, mastitis control and milk quality, calf feeding and management, housing and novel technologies and has made a great contribution to advancing applications of precision dairy farming.

Go to the Precision Dairy Management website www.precisiondairy2010.com and click on “Conference Proceedings” to access all presentations. For anyone wanting to purchase a copy of the Proceedings there is a limited number still available using the downloadable form on the website.

Conference organizers have remodeled the Precision Dairy Management website as a place to showcase new and emerging precision dairy technologies. We will be posting submitted articles, papers, media releases and links to information about new technologies on a regular basis. Contributions of information or links may be submitted to info@precisiondairy2010.com. We will review it for suitability and post all material that we feel contributes in a positive fashion to knowledge and understanding of precision technologies in the dairy industry.

June 23, 2011


New Precision Dairy Management Web Pages!

 A new communications forum for dairy precision management via the internet was unveiled today.  The Precision Dairy Management website www.precisiondairy2010.com developed as an extension of the highly successful North American Conference on Precision Dairy Management that was held in March, 2010, will be a source of news, new products, and the latest research and developments in the area of precision dairy farming.

 The First North American Conference in 2010 brought together key people in precision technology and related aspects of dairy production from around the world and it has served as a turning point for acceptance of precision dairy technology as a mainstream component of modern dairy farming in North America.  There have been a lot of positive spin-off and tangible benefits from that Conference in the form of researchers being invited to be involved in joint programs in other countries, companies expanding their reach, and forming new linkages, and increased awareness in the industry in general of the potential that this technology has to offer.  Already we have seen cooperative efforts in milk recording and genetic improvement, cow behaviour, reproduction, cow welfare and renewed interest in precision nutrition.

 Ontario has been one of the world leaders in adoption of precision dairy farming and robotic milking and we believe it is very important to stay involved in this rapidly changing technology, share our experiences and use our position to advantage to increase and improve the benefits of robotics and precision technology on North American dairy farms.   This increased awareness and appetite for information on new developments in this exciting technology has led to the re-development of the Precision Dairy Management website to be a clearinghouse for the latest information from research and industry product development.

 Precision Dairy Management is bringing about a new era in dairy cattle management, where technology is being used for individual cow monitoring and management regardless of herd size, to achieve not only more efficient production but also improved animal health and welfare.   It is very important that the excitement and collective energy generated by the Conference be continued and generate new ideas and new cooperative efforts to benefit the dairy industry.

 The website is sponsored in part by the Progressive Dairy Operators with editorial assistance from dairy specialists of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.  Web hosting is courtesy of CanWestDHI.  Check out the Precision Dairy Management website at www.precisondairy2010.com

 November 8, 2010



Web Hosting by CanWest DHI