The quiet manure sucker tries out sand

Lely’s manure vacuum is being tested in Ontario farms with sand bedding

Lely has become known for its robots, small and large, that hum their way around dairy barns.

They’re found in feed alleys and shoving manure down slats behind cows, but the latest is the Discovery 120 Collector, that runs up and down an alley among the cows, sucks up the manure and delivers it to an area where it is sent to a manure pit.

The units are being tested in Ontario sand barns to see how they stand up to those conditions.

Why it matters: Sand bedding is considered the most comfortable for cows but also the most wearing on equipment, so it is important to understand how new technology works in sand.

Most free stall dairy barns are cleaned by slow moving scrapers, as wide as the alley way, that inch along and move the manure to the end of the barn where it is transferred to the manure pit.

The scrapers require more infrastructure and create small waves oof manure, sometimes splashing it on cows’ feet and legs.

Lely Discovery 120 Collector working in a sand-bedded barn at Eagle Lee Farm in Norwich.
photo: Jennifer Betzner

Gerard Cramer, associate professor at the University of Minnesota, has shown that these “manure tsunamis” result in higher rates of digital dermatitis in cows.

Eagle Lee Farms in Norwich is one of eight farms testing the Discovery 120 Collector robotic dairy barn floor cleaner on sand bedding in the Woodstock area. There are about 60 of the units running in Canada.

Joel Stam and family at Eagle Lee Farm, in Oxford County, milk 92 cows and have three collectors in their new free-stall barn with sand bedding.

“I like the cleanliness of the barn, it’s vacuumed, it’s not smeared around,” said Stam. “I don’t ever get the summer ice or the slippery build-ups, even in the winter.”

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Although not certain to be part of the final design, the collectors on the Stam farm include a flush system to help remove sand that has settled as it empties into the manure pit. The company is testing models with and without the flush system.

The collectors allowed Stam to build a barn without raised cross alleys, providing greater efficiency in cleaning, assistance in the cost of building the barn and the ability to have different-size scrape alleys.

“The wear and tear is a lot less than the cables and the scrapers,” said Stam.

He said the tires must be switched out every six months and the rubber blade every four months.

Lely does not yet sell the collectors to farmers with sand bedding.

Bas van Berkel.
photo: Jennifer Betzner

“Lely wants to make sure we sell something that works. We really want to test it well before we go further,” says Bas van Berkel, manager for Lely Center Woodstock.

Stam’s barn measures 130 by 350 feet and requires three collectors. Deciding how many collectors. The number depends on barn layout, number of cows and number of milkings. Stam’s farm was one of the stops on a recent Lely barn tour.

On Stam’s farm, the collectors run 10 hours a day, about 40 per cent of the time running and 60 per cent charging, and washing. It empties about 22 times a day.

The biggest benefit of the collectors is flexibility for the farm and improved cow foot health.

“The collector gives flexibility and is able to do each corner of the barn. There is no bath of manure in front of the machine as the manure is sucked up instead (of) pushing forward. It reduces the chances of diseases. It’s a small machine respecting cow traffic. Cows know to step aside as it makes its way down the alley way,” said van Berkel.

Lely Canada says it does not yet know when the collectors will be available for sand-bedded barns.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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