Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robot milker

It’s 2011. Remember how far in the future that seemed when we were all young? Where are all our robots?

For us, they’re across the road. And rapidly spreading.

Our neighbors, Howard and Mary Jo Straub, own Triple H Farms. They have a robot milker.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s not an R2-D2-like creature walking around the
parlor, tending to each cow.

The brand name is Lely. It milks all by itself, all the time. It costs about $250,000.

First, the cow enters the machine. She’s wearing a responder on her neck that communicates how much feed she’s going to get. She eats grain while she’s being milked. (The Straubs pasture their cows, so they graze outdoors the rest of the time.)

She steps in and stands over a grate. Not only does this space their feet correctly, but it also keeps the area clear of manure.

The brushes come in. Like a tiny car wash, the brushes go over each teat and clean them.

Since every cow’s udder is a little different, the robot scans the udder to detect each teat’s location. (It looks like little red laser beams going over it.) Then it attaches the four teat cups.

Then milking begins! As each quarter is done, the teat cup comes off. Then the robot sprays off the udder. The gate opens, and the cow walks out. The next cow, eager to be milked, steps in.

View from the other side

All of it is run by a computer. If there’s a problem with the milking, a different gate opens and she’s shuttled into a holding pen. If her responder indicates she’s in heat, she’s moved into there to be bred. It’s really an amazing system with tons of detail, like a weighing floor, milk quality measuring system, and management software that even lets you compare your results with other Lely users worldwide. (You can learn more about it here.)

People come from all around to see it. They have a viewing window and a chockfull guest book. We take all our visitors there. The Straubs had the first robotic milker in Michigan, and now Lely is putting them in eight farms in Michigan this year.

Mary Jo told me that if something isn’t working, Lely performs a service call. The other day, she said, Lely was at another farm and couldn’t be there immediately. So, their herdsman Dan used a piece of wire from an old political sign and rigged up the machine so it was working again.

Dan, Straubs' herdsman and our neighbor

Robots, just like we thought the future would be like. Pair that with farm people who can fix anything … it’s better than R2-D2.

No comments: