The rise of automation in agriculture and manufacturing, coupled with the constant drive to innovate technically, is an unstoppable force that many of us are yet to fully understand. Every aspect of daily life is being touched upon by automation: from the production of the latest iPhone to machine learning customer service bots. Even something as humble as the milk you add to your morning coffee now has a production cycle that includes automation. Yes, robots are making your milk. This article looks at how robots are now milking cows to produce your milk in this new age of automation.
Where does your milk come from?
Have you ever wondered where your milk comes from? You may be forgiven for thinking that in some lush, green farmland away in the country, dairy cows are being hand milked by milkmaidens in milking parlors. Well, this isn’t the 19th Century anymore and that is not how commercial milk production happens.
Things have changed so dramatically that today, the world’s largest robotic milking dairy factory in Chile milks up to 6,500 cows. The most popular type of dairy cow is the instantly recognizable Holstein Friesian cow, with characteristic back and white coloring.
A type of milking robot named the DeLaval VMS robot can be found on El Risquillo farm and has resulted in reduced costs for the farmer and increased milk production while allowing the cows a greater amount of freedom.
An increase in productivity
The chief executive officer running the Chilean robotic milking farm, Pedro Heller, commented that the benefits to the farm have been remarkable. He asserts a higher production rate of milk, better animal welfare conditions and reduced stress on the animals.
Initially, the farm trialed robotic milking and noticed a 10% production improvement. They then expanded the automation process to further realize greater economic improvements.
What considerations are given to the cows?
While the process of robotic milking and automation delivers economic and production efficiencies, the livestock also benefits. The milking system ties robotic milking with a source of food. The cow will enter a gated compound that automatically dispenses a food treat. While the cow is eating, robotic arms will extend around the cow’s belly and latch onto the teats.
Each time the cow enters the unit, the system scans the cow to gather biological data. This data is used to determine the last time the cow was milked and when the next milking time should be. If the cow has recently given milk, the robot won’t take more milk until the system determines when the cow is next ready to be milked.
For the cow, a positive reward system is set up and entering the milking unit is a positive experience.
How does the robotic milking system work?
The unit consists of a small compound that the cow can freely walk into to access food. Once the cow is inside the unit and settled, a robotic arm, guided by a laser, extends underneath the cow and scans the teats. If the cow is ready to give up more milk, plastic tubes will suction onto the teats and the milking process begins.
Global growth of robotic milking
While Chile currently has the largest robotic milking farm in the world, robotic milking is not confined to this one country. Many farms the world over are adopting automation for the production of milk. The website Dairy Global reports that 22% of Dutch farmers now have a milking robot. Robots can also be found in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Finland, and Australia.
In the United States, robotic milking is expected to double over the next five years.
So the next time you take a sip of milk, think about the robot that may have milked a cow to produce your milk.
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