DAIRY FARMERS are incurring huge costs through foot problems, says dairy equipment manufacturer Lely.

The Dutch firm points out that, as one of the main factors, housing hygiene and cleanliness is easily overlooked.

And, having taken into account the expense of treatment, culling, replacement, milk loss and reduced fertility, costs can mount up to an average of £182 a cow each year, that is £21,840 a year for a 120-cow herd.

Startling though the figures may be, they highlight where investment can be made to improve things.

Not surprisingly, Lely has come up with a system that promises to help cut lameness by reducing the amount of slurry lying in standing areas and passageways.

Flushed with the success of its Astronaut robotic milking system – sales have doubled in the past year – the company continues its quest to introduce the benefits of robotics to the dairy industry.

“Over the past 12 years we have had enormous success with automated systems and it is something we are keen to develop,” said Aart van Lande, vice-president of Lely‘s dairy equipment division.

“Lameness is losing our producers many thousands of euros and so that it is our next target.”

Concentrating initially on the Dutch market, the company has developed a fully automated solution to slurry related problems, it is claimed.

“Our latest product – a robotic passageway cleaner – has been developed because we are looking to reduce the cost of foot problems by pushing preventative foot care,” he added.

“A number of factors have driven this. First, the rising cost of treatment and, more pressingly for Dutch farmers, formaldehyde-based footbaths are soon to be banned.”

The Discovery robot is simple enough in concept – two wheels at the rear are independently driven by electric motors.

These provide propulsion and steering. Up front the weight of the unit is supported by a 1m wide squeegee-blade which clears slurry.

With the aid of a compass and ultrasonic sensors to the left and right, the unit follows a preset course along cubicle passageways. A free-spinning horizontal wheel guides it along walls and steers it around obstacles including cattle standing in its path.

Capable of serving a 240-cow unit, price of the Discovery is £6000. Installation extends to the fitting of a charging station and programming the robot‘s route via remote control on its first trip.

Unfortunately, the machine does not have the capacity to carry its load over more than 5m of solid concrete. Consequently its use is restricted to fully slatted floors.