Robot dairy replaces subjectivity with data

09 Dec, 2017 04:00 AM
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David Widdicombe from Delaval robotic dairy company inspecting cows from Wayne and Paul Clarke's herd, Dobies Bight via Casino. Ordinarily there is no reason for a human to be in the stalls and cows learn to relax and give milk.
David Widdicombe from Delaval robotic dairy company inspecting cows from Wayne and Paul Clarke's herd, Dobies Bight via Casino. Ordinarily there is no reason for a human to be in the stalls and cows learn to relax and give milk.

In the statistically driven world of modern agriculture, robotic milking machines are challenging the notion of what is supposed to be a correct cow.

Fifth generation dairy farmers Wayne and Paul Clarke, Dobies Bight improved their operation two years ago with the installation of four robotic milkers run off solar power.

Their daily routine changed overnight. It didn’t take their 350 three-way cross cows long to figure out the new way of doing things and it seems they won’t go back to their old regimented life.

“They’re calmer now when I walk through them,” says Paul. “But if I try to push them into a robot or fetch them from a paddock early, no way.”

The most remarkable discovery – as a result of data collection every time a cow goes to the bails – has been that their worst cow is all of a sudden the best.

“She’s a four-way cross, actually,” Paul explains: Jersey over Illawarra/Friesian and back to Illawarra.

“We were just about ready to sell her and now we realise she's our most profitable cow producing 9000 litres per lactation.

“Under the robot regime she is just more relaxed, feeding when she wants and how much she wants.

“In the past, when we herd recorded, we came up with a snapshot once a month. Now we know exactly how many litres per day for each cow. It is a lot more accurate. Data collected has identified cows capable of producing more milk from pasture with less reliance on grain. With the cross bred cows outperforming the purebred at the moment. The preference being Friesian over Jersey/Red breeds, with Brown Swiss seemingly too docile.”

David Widdicimbe, marketing agent for the Swedish Delaval robot, said old herd hierarchies were relaxed under a robot regime, with once bullied cows able to hang back and go to the bales when they want.

In the bales the robot washes and blow dries each teat several times before applying individual cups, fitted with a weights and measures ‘approved’ scanning tool that measures flow. The technology also presents the farmer with reports, through Windows-based software, on each teat regarding cell-count and salinity, which is an indicator of early mastitis.

“We can't compare this technology with the old way,” says Paul. “Before we were in the dairy with the cows and we checked them every time they milked. Now we're not there so we have to rely on the robot.”

When each separate tests had been milked and measured, cows are free to go; but not just anywhere. Pneumatically powered gates open or shut after identifying each animal by their livestock identification ear tag. Early lactating cows travel around the system generally better, with shorter milking permission times [greater access to the dairy] as the lactation progresses ,milking permission is lengthen allowing late lactation cows longer grazing intervals.

The flexibility afforded by the robot allows cows to milk anytime of day or night.

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