The 10 Most Important Features of a Robot Barn

You have a fresh new robot barn plan in front of you. There are solid manure alleys, freestalls in 6 rows and a wide drive-through feeding table. There is a separate pen behind one of the 3 milking robots. What else can you tell about the functionality and use of the barn? Before commenting or modifying the layout, you should first know how the barns is to be used. It’s good to start by making a list of the work tasks that are important to you and should at least be found in the new robot barn. A modern robot barns should contain at least these 10 things.


1. The Fetch pen

In a robot barn there are always those cows who don’t go to the robot themselves and need to be fetched. Usually those are shy first-lactation cows or late-lactation cows. These animals need a fetch pen where the worker can bring them. The only way out from the fetch pen is through the milking robot. There are no stalls, water trough or feed offered. The main group should have access to the robot at the same time as the fetched cows in the fetch pen.

A fetch pen
The fetch pen


2. VIC–group (very important cow)

VIC –group (very important cow) is the luxury area of the barn. It’s reserved for the most important cows; fresh cows who need special care. VIC-group has a plenty of feed space, and the resting area is either bedded pack or deep bedding stalls. The group has a calm 24/7 access to the robot. That way also the shy first-lactation cows learn to go to the robot themselves several times a day. VIC-group is in a central location in the barn where it is easy to monitor the cows. Read more about VICs.

VIC-group in a bedded pack area

VIC-group in a bedded pack area


3. Feed bunk space

The importance of the feed bunk space cannot be overemphasized. You know that it’s not comfortable to sit with 10 other people in a dining table meant to 6 people. Enough feed bunk space ensures that the cow can eat in peace. The cow eats longer and comes to eat more often. In the main group there should be at least 60 cm feed bunk space per cow. In VIC-group there should be at least 76 cm/cow. Competition lowers the feed intake and limits the milk yield.

Make sure there is enough feed bunk space

Make sure there is enough feed bunk space


4. Cattle chute

A barn’s own cattle chute is a multipurpose tool, which helps to improve the cow longevity and productivity. Preventive and regular hoof trimming helps to reduce non-infectious hoof diseases and lameness, and to improve the animal health. Even if the farm uses Hoof trimmer services regularly, it is important to be able to catch the cow and check the hoofs safely by yourself.

A cattle chute

A cattle chute


5. The Footbath

The footbath is used in treatment or prevention of infectious hoof diseases. It’s good to think about the location of the footbath during the designing phase. In worst case an incorrectly sized or located footbath can mess up the animal traffic and cause more stress and labor for the workers.

A route to the footbath

A route to the footbath


6. Special needs cow pen

Can you group cows in heat, cows under antibiotic treatment or dry-off therapy cows? Special need cow pen is behind the robot, where you can easily separate cows which need special attention and monitored robot milking (to avoid antibiotic contamination in Bulk Tank milk). Separated sick cow is also away from the main group, which decreases contamination to healthy cows. If there are no cows that need to be separated, well designed special needs cow pen pen can be combined to main group. This means more free stalls and feeding table space.

special needs cow pen

Special needs cow pen


7. The separate calf barn

Calf facilities must provide for the animal’s needs. Moving calves to a separate calf barn as early as possible lowers the risk of diseases. It also allows to plan an individual ventilation and “all-in, all-out” pens for calves. Feeding, adding bedding and cleaning routes are convenient, and machine work can be done smoothly when there are no walls of the robot barn or other animal groups restricting the work.

A separate calf barn lowers the risk of diseases

The separate calf facilities lowers the risk of diseases


8. A stall bedders

Stall bedders are great labor-saving machines that transform that all day job into a quick chore. It is important to provide the cows clean, dry bedding and to keep the base clean and dry by replacing the bedding whenever it becomes soiled. The base and bedding system should work together to keep the cow clean, dry and comfortable. Even in a robot barn cows get used to drive-by bedding machine.

A stall bedder

A stall bedder


9. Lot of space in front of the robot

Is there enough space in front of the robot? This will allow even a timid, low-ranking cow the opportunity to enter robot comfortably.

A lot of space in front of the robot

A lot of space in front of the robot


10. Clean route to the milking robot

Is there clean and safe access to the milking robot room? Keeping the robot room clean is important for maintaining a healthy environment for good milk quality. Very often the ”dirty office” is located also in the robot room. Clean access can be achieved by using clean alleys, step stones, hygiene bridge and installing boot wash for all doors into or out of the robot room.Sometimes a combination of previous solutions works best.

A clean route to the robot

A clean route to the robot


The importance of the user-focusing functional design is often underestimated. The designing process takes more time, but it pays itself back quickly through the practical solutions in the barn. Make sure, that you will get a robot barn which suits your goals and working routines. 4dBarn Designed -service provides clear working instructions for the robot barn to help you to familiarize yourself with the work routines already in the designing phase.

Learn more in our eAcademy: Ten Point Robot Barn

About author

Marjo Posio (Calf specialist)

Has developed and worked together with Jouni Pitkäranta in an international robot barn labour efficiency project monitoring robot barn performance in numerous barns in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and the United States.

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