Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Milking with robots

Tonight when I was out with some girls my friend mentioned she was going to New Zealand.  I joked about how she should be sure to notice the farms there, since they're big into dairy and were early adopters of robot milkers

We continued talking for a little bit and she said, "Wait ... I'm confused.  What are these robot cows?"

If only!  Of course - not even all farmers have seen robot milkers, though most everyone knows about them now.

I explained how the robots work - first, the cow enters the robot. It's like walking into a little room.  She wears a responder on her neck that communicates how much feed she’s going to get and she eats grain while she’s being milked.

I took these at our neighbor's farm.  It's always fun to take visitors there.
She steps in and stands over a grate. Not only does this space her 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.

Brush, cleaning off the teats

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 steps in.  Each robot accommodates about 80 cows each and one costs about $250,000.

Exiting the robot

So for lots of farmers, it makes sense.  This way, there aren't people physically milking the cows.  There are still lots of people jobs to do, like making sure the cattle go through and doing regular feeding. 

For lots of other farmers, it doesn't make sense.  If you have reliable, good employees, and old parlor that works just fine, and a lot of cows, then it's not an easy financial decision.

Maybe someday it'll be the way of the future and we'll look at our parlors today - where we use milking units - the same way we regard our ancestors milking by hand.

Or maybe we'll just all have robot cows by then.  Who knows what they're coming up with in New Zealand next?!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article :) its interesting to see these go in on dairies an hear the reasons why they do. but you made some great points in this ! we have a great employee and a great parlor so its harder to get super excited about putting them in.