Your chance to see a robot milk a cow

Said Merri to her husband, Bill, as they were milking cows:  “So walk me through the day you sell these cows”.  His response, “I don’t even want to think about it.”  Don’t women just have a fantastic way of convincing their husbands?

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Bill and Merri, with their daughter, Sarah, who was recently named a 2014 Finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the official goodwill ambassador for Minnesota’s dairy farms.

Faced with the decision to change their methods or quit, Bill and Merri Post opted to update their farm.  You have the unique opportunity to watch a cow milk at robot at their farm, Middleroad Acres, on Friday June 6, 3-8 p.m.  Address is 392 61st Street, Chandler, MN.

What?  A cow milk a robot?  This is really a new wave of technology to dairies.  Here is some of the logic behind it:

1.  Cows decide how often they would like to be milked.  A cow that gave birth 2 months ago is going to milk a bunch — she will go to the robot to be milked up to 6 times a day.  Milking out that often is great for her, but really not feasible if a farm doesn’t have robots.  On the flip-side, a cow that gave birth 12 months ago may only prefer to be milked twice a day.  It allows the cow to choose.  However, dairy farmers still monitor each cow every day to make sure she is getting milked appropriately.  So, if a cow hasn’t decided to be milked in the last 12 hours (unless she is getting close to two months before her due date), Bill or Merri need to direct her that it is time.  On their dairy with 120 milking cows, that would average about 10 cows each morning and night.

2.  It helps farmers to be flexible.  Bill and Merri were able to attend their son’s playoff basketball game last winter that was scheduled for 5 p.m.   That would be nearly impossible for a dairy farmer in the past who has 50-100 cows and thus, very little hired labor.  For a typical dairy that size, cows get milked every 12 hours, often starting at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

3.  It eases physical strain to farmers.  If you have ever seen a 70-year-old man walking with obvious knee pain, you know he is/was a dairy farmer and you completely get it.  Milking cows in a tie-stall barn is so physically repetitive and knees don’t appreciate all the bending 365 days a year.  This isn’t to say that robotic milkers eliminate work, it just changes to other forms.  The robot must be serviced daily.  Cows still need physical observation with a keen eye, and as mentioned before, some need convincing it is time for them to take a turn.  There’ s still plenty of chores, they just aren’t quite so taxing to a body.

4.  There’s just way more information.  Each time a cow enters the robot, she is weighed.  (It makes me think a bit of the doctor’s office while pregnant!)  It also measures how many pounds of milk she gives, the temperature of her milk, and the conductivity of her milk — all great clues as to the health of a cow.  This allows Bill and Merri to recognize a sick cow much more quickly.  They also have tags specifically designed to measure activity and rumination (when a cow brings up food she has already swallowed to chew it again).

5.  Nutritional needs of the cows can be tailored for each individual one.  A cow will receive a “treat” each time they enter the robot.  The treat is a supplement to the feed that is available to all of them 24/7.  However, because the robot recognizes each unique cow, it doles out a treat that is specifically calculated by the farmers and their nutritionist to meet her needs for milk production, pregnancy, and just maintenance.  We farmers spend a ton of time worrying that a cow milking a lot is going to get too skinny, and even more time worrying a cow getting too far into her lactation will get too fat to be healthy for her next calf delivery.  So giving them a “treat” or a “supplement” each time they enter is a super neat feature.

How about even an automatic calf feeder that measures and mixes milk powder when a calf decides it is lunch time?  The Post family converted their old dairy barn to house young calves, and chose to implement this system as well.  It helps calves to drink smaller amounts of milk more often, which is really ideal for their young, growing bodies.

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You will be able to see these things and so much more next week!!  It will totally be worth the drive (well maybe not if you are an out-of-state reader, but if so, please let me know that you are interested and I’ll try to locate a farm with robots for you to visit).   There will be a short program at 4 p.m. if you want, but various learning stations for kids and adults will be there the whole 5 hours.  They are also serving food (need I say more?) and soft-serve ice cream.  If you want to make a day out of it, there are some other options that my mother-in-law (read more about her here) and 7 of her grandkids just took advantage of yesterday, like the Pipestone Monument and Edgerton bakery.

Did you notice the image with Bessie the cow wearing a party hat?  It is nearly June Dairy Month, the barn doors are open, and dairy farmers are so excited for you to see their farms and the passion they have for providing you with nutritious, delicious milk!   It is certainly time to celebrate.

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2 thoughts on “Your chance to see a robot milk a cow

  1. Pingback: Photos of robots milking cows | soshemarriedafarmer

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