New Penn State Dairy Idea Plans Feature Automatic Milking Systems

Functional layouts for dairy housing systems are key for automatic systems.


Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) continue to gain popularity on dairy farms in the United States and around the world. Many design considerations, including ventilation, stall size and arrangement, and feeding and watering are similar whether cows are milked in an AMS or a parlor. However, there are other design considerations which are more desirable or unique to AMS herds. Herds using AMS rely on voluntary cow entry to the milking unit, so additional unique or desirable design factors are needed. Three new Dairy Idea Plans have been developed focusing on dairy housing systems using fully automatic milking.

The AMS Idea Plan series presently includes three AMS layouts. A two-box L-shaped arrangement, a head-to-head arrangement, and a toll booth arrangement. All three are designed as a single milking group system for approximately 120 milking cows housed in a freestall area with bedded packs for special needs and pre-fresh cows. A free-flow cow management system is used in these idea plans. A support area consisting of an office, utility room, and milk room is located near the AMS area. Far-off dry cows and replacement heifers would be housed in separate locations.

To encourage cow flow to and from the AMS units a more open design around each unit is needed. Also, there should not be a time when a large portion of the herd is restrained in headlocks for routine animal handling or veterinary visits. For this reason, a feed rail is located along the feed bunk in the freestall area, and a separate special needs pen is included for routine animal handling. Minimizing labor is one objective of the AMS, so designs that allow one person to move cows easily and perform routine tasks within the barn are necessary.

Commitment pen(s) are shown to aid with training of cows to the AMS and provide a place for fetched cows as they wait for an opportunity to go through the AMS. While it would be ideal if no cows needed to be fetched, the reality in most free-flow AMS dairy systems is that some cows will need to be fetched every day.

To facilitate management of potentially high-risk animals two-bedded packs are included in the system, a pre-fresh pen, and a special needs pen. Sick and lame cows can be housed in the special needs bedded pack to allow for better care for these individuals while still having free access to an AMS. The feed area in the bedded packs have headlocks, as opposed to a rail, to facilitate handling of the cows in these pens. Also, to facilitate individual animal handling a 12 by 17-foot working area with a chute is located in the corner of the special needs bedded pack.

While there is no single barn design that will suit all dairy farms and dairy producers, Penn State’s Dairy Idea Plans are intended to give dairy producers and industry professionals fundamentally sound and functional layouts for dairy housing systems and components. Structural details of dairy facilities should be designed and constructed in accordance with local codes and conditions. Dairy producers planning a new milking facility should contact their milk inspection agency when developing plans for milking cows.

The Penn State Dairy Idea Plans using automatic milking systems were developed by Penn State Extension Dairy Team Agricultural Engineers, Dan McFarland and John Tyson, and Dairy Educator Mat Haan. More AMS Dairy Idea Plans featuring different milking herd sizes and building layouts are in development.