Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Robot

I have seen cows being milked before. I have even milked a cow when I was younger. But I have NEVER seen it done this way before. Usually the farmer milks the cows in the morning and the evening, and you see all the cows file past with udders at bursting point. The highest tech milking I had seen before was a dairy where the cups were automatically removed from the teats when the milking was finished. But the robotic milking machine was something else.

The robotic milking machine.

Laser technology for positioning the cups on the teats.

A group watching the entertaining miking robot.

The office, overlooking the barn and the cows.
The computer shows in red which cows are past their due milking time.

More high technology behind the scenes.

The first thing I noticed was that it was so small. Instead of a rotary dairy or the herringbone style where a number of cows (maybe up to 100) are milked at one time, the robot milks just one cow at a time. It looked a bit like a space-age cattle crush. And the cows wander in at any time of the night or day to relieve their udders of milk. They wear electronic collars which identify them, and the robot supplies a measured amount of food for them to eat while they are being milked. We saw one greedy cow come in to try to get something to eat while we were there, but she was turned away because she had only recently been milked.
The cows end up being milked on average more than twice a day, and the increase in milk produced is about ten percent. The machine keeps detailed records on every cow, and measures the milk from not just each cow but each quarter (teat). I'm not sure if it is individually tested too, but why not? What a marvellous machine! The farmer only needs to carry out regular cleaning and maintenance, and if the machine has a problem it automatically sends a message to his mobile phone.
Now the farmer and his wife have lots of spare time, no more early morning milking, and plenty of time to show visitors around their new-fangled dairy.
You would have to think that this machine was the best thing ever for a dairy farmer. Apart from the 150,000 euro cheque he had to sign it probably is. I thought it would be a good thing for the cows too, being able to be milked when the udder if full instead of walking in from the field with milk streaming from a bursting udder (believe me I know the feeling!) But Bonnie noticed that the cows live in the yard and the shed permanently, and never go out into the field to eat green grass or sit under the shade of a tree chewing their cud. So that is the downside.
Now I am more interested than ever in an automatic shearing robot. It has been in the pipeline for years, but never successfully perfected.

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