From milking parlours, to robots, to sophisticated software…farmers are increasingly using technology to make management decisions on the farm!
Dairy farming has evolved greatly over the last few decades. Gone are the days where farmers spent hours hand milking each cow one-by-one. Advancements in technology have allowed dairy farmers to improve everyday quality of life within their herds. Take a look at some of the modern advancements in the dairy industry and how our farmers are working hard to ensure their herd’s health!
Advancements in Milking
The average dairy farm in BC uses a vacuum system to milk their cows. Vacuums are contained within individual milk machines in a parlour (pictured above). This system allows for multiple cows to be milked at a time. Milk machines are made of soft rubber or silicone, which ensures the comfort of cows during milking. The vacuum within a milk machine gently pulsates on a cow’s teats, drawing milk from the udder. It takes between five and eight minutes to milk a cow using this system.
While rotary parlours are not as common in BC, they allow farmers with larger herds to get an overview of all cows on a raised, slowly rotating platform. A platform typically completes a rotation in 10-12 minutes. This allows each cow to be milked, eat grain, and have her udder cleaned and dried before she leaves to rest and socialize with the rest of the herd.
Automatic milking systems or “robots” are becoming increasingly popular on BC dairy farms. In a robotic parlour, cows can be milked at any time. Robotic arms attach a vacuum pump to the cow. The cow’s health and milk production information are recorded and, upon completion of milking, the cow returns to the herd.
To ensure their product is of the highest quality, farmers utilize complex refrigeration methods. They chill milk to 4°C in a bulk tank prior to pick up by the transport trucks. The tanker trucks bring the milk to the processing plant every 48 hours. Regular monitoring and recording of milk temperature are mandatory on dairy farms in BC and is often simplified with the use of a Time Temperature Recorder (TTR) which does an automatic temperature check every 15 minutes.
Herd Health and Cow Comfort
Most dairy farms in BC utilize advanced technology to maintain herd health and milk production. Farmers can now manage production and animal health with computers and cell phone apps. In addition, every cow in BC is outfitted with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag to keep track of their origin and current whereabouts. Some farmers use pedometers (like Fitbits for cows) to track the daily activities of each cow and can identify cows that may need a little extra help (i.e., a visit from a veterinarian to identify any sickness or a hoof trimmer to help with sore feet!).
A cow’s favourite piece of tech? The cow brush. Yup, you heard that right. Many farmers have their barns equipped with swinging brushes that begin to move on contact with a cow. The brushes have been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of cattle by allowing for increased blood circulation.
The reality of dairy farming is that it often involves recycling. Animal manure is returned to fields, which allows nutrients to improve soil health and increase the nutritive value of plants. Beyond regular farm practices, farmers are continuously making efforts towards sustainability. By recycling silage plastic and storage containers, or by implementing large scale energy practices such as biogas digesters or solar paneling on barns, many farmers across Canada are seeing the value in implementing sustainability practices. The use of renewable resources allows dairy operations to give energy back to the grid and may, in some cases, generate enough power for others to use.
As technology evolves, the dairy industry will continue evolving with it. The future of technology in the dairy industry echoes the trends of today: drones are used to scan fields, facial recognition software is being developed for animals, and cell phone apps are used to monitor herd health. Our farmers strive to promote a quality product, animal care, and sustainable practices–a key foundation of this means quality checks at every step!