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Cora Schouten

Robotic milking machines are becoming increasingly popular in the dairy industry, with nearly forty dairy farms across British Columbia using them in their operations. How do they work and what are the benefits of going high-tech for cows and farmers?

How do cows get milked without people?

Cows enter the milking unit freely according to their natural lactating cycle. Milking robots operate using sensors that detect the teats of each individual cow’s udder, and each teat is meticulously cleansed, dried, and stimulated by the robot before the milking begins. Cows then exit the unit once the milking is complete. Equipment is sanitized in between each cow so that no milk residue is left behind.

What are the benefits of milking with robots?

Cow Comfort

Robotic milking systems give cows the opportunity to travel at their own pace and in their own groups to get milked.

Most robotic milking systems have a feeding system integrated into the unit, which allows the cows to enjoy a tasty treat while being milked. This acts as an incentive for the cow to enter the unit and puts the animal at ease during the milking. Some robots contain retractable feed dishes, which retract when the milking is complete and entice the cow to exit the unit (Lely, 2016). 

Lely Astronaut Robot

Close Monitoring of Cow Health

While milk on all farms is tested for quality and food safety before it is picked up, robots have detection capabilities that can sense even the slightest abnormality in the milk and automatically divert it from the bulk tank to prevent contamination. Indication systems warn the farmer of any issues even before symptoms appear.

All dairy farmers keep a close eye on their herd health but by addressing issues detected by robots very early on, they can cut down on vet costs. 


Technological Appeal for Younger Generations

In an age when more and more people are moving from the country to big cities, it is important to continue to make farming appealing to younger generations to keep the industry alive. By making technological advancements such as the shift to robotic milking, younger generations can often find farm work more appealing and relatable. 

Farming on the Go

Implementing robots can relieve farmers of some of their daily chores in the parlour. This gives them the flexibility to focus on other farm tasks such as herd management and equipment maintenance, or even to catch a few extra minutes of much needed rest in the morning. 

With robotic milking systems, farmers have access to around-the-clock monitoring on all of their smart phone, tablet, and computer devices anywhere they go! These clever bots will let them know exactly what is going on with their animals and alert them of any potential concerns, no matter where they are.

References

DeLaval. (2015). DeLaval VMS TM. DeLaval. Retrieved from: http://www.delaval.com/en/-/Product-Information1/Milking/Systems/Automatic/DeLaval-VMS/

Herbert, L. (2014). Robotic cow milkers change herd mentality. Rural. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-26/robots-change-cow-herds/5772282

Lely. (n.d). The Lely way of farming; one man, two million. Lely: Innovators in Agriculture. Retrieved from: 

https://www.lely.com/media/filer_public/ec/2e/ec2ee271-dc13-4d86-8951-b1d3167bf3df/lely_vector_lhqb04014ena.pdf

Acknowledgements

Thank you to DeLaval and Lely for providing us with images of their milking system and to the dairy farmers who allowed us to take photos of their robotic milking systems. 

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