New robotic milkers allow cows to choose when they want to be milked.
via The New York Times:
Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.
Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.
The cows seem to like it, too.
Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.
With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,” a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.
The robots also monitor the amount and quality of milk produced, the frequency of visits to the machine, how much each cow has eaten, and even the number of steps each cow has taken per day, which can indicate when she is in heat.
“The animals just walk through,” said Jay Skellie, a dairyman from Salem, N.Y., after watching a demonstration. “I think we’ve got to look real hard at robots.”
Animal welfare advocates give the new machines a guarded thumbs-up. “Not being milked hurts,” said Paul Shapiro, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. He said letting cows move more freely was also an improvement on older methods that involved tying cows to stanchions.
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