4.6.16 / ADMIN
Excuse Me While I Check My Robots
By Ashley Kennedy
Ashley is a third-generation Michigan dairy farmer. She graduated from Michigan State University and spent two years working at an off farm job before returning to the family farm.
Like most millennials, technology plays a big part in my life. I’m social media savvy and typically have my iPhone in hand. But I’m not just checking Facebook or Twitter; I’m also checking on my robots. Allow me to explain.
My family and our employees care for and milk 240 cows three times each day on our small dairy farm. Milking cows is not a difficult task, but it is a monotonous one, which makes employee turnover high. Or it did, until we installed robotic milking stalls. Now, our employees can focus on larger, more fulfilling tasks, such as cow health and feeding. More importantly, the robots keep our cows relaxed during milking time. Content cows mean more quality milk!
Cows need to release milk. Robotic milking stations allow them to do so on their own schedule, when they feel that need, as opposed to when it’s convenient for a farmer. We have four milking stations in the barn, and cows line up on their own to use them. The process is simple – a robotic arm senses when a cow is in place. It swings into place under the cow, cleans and disinfects the teats and milks the cow, just like our employees used to. The cows enjoy tasty food pellets while they are being milked which provides them more contentment and keeps them standing still until the milking is finished.
There’s an App for That
Each cow is outfitted with an electronic collar containing a microchip. The microchip is read as the cow enters the robotic milking station. Data is then sent to our computer about how often the cow enters the milking station. This technology allows us to ensure that each cow is not milked more than once every four hours. The microchip also collects 200 more data points for each cow, ranging from her activity level in the barn to her eating habits. Low activity and smaller meals consumed could alert me that the cow is sick even before she shows obvious physical signs, which leads to faster diagnosis and treatment.
I have an app on my phone connected to my computer that allows me to check the data on each cow while I am working in the barn. The app also alerts me if one of the milking robots isn’t working properly. I used to have to physically be in the barn to check on my cows. Thanks to the app, I’m now able to keep an eye on my cows at all times – so I can get them care instantly if needed.
A Typical Millennial Mom…But with Robots
It’s not an exaggeration to say that robots changed my life. Before we installed the milking stations, I worked 16-18 hours every day. We couldn’t find enough help in our rural town to get the cows milked in fewer hours. I can now let my robots do the milking, which allows me to focus on cow health, quality feed ingredients and total milk production.
At the end of the day, I’m just like other millennial moms, but instead of a pretend animal farm app on my phone, my app is for real.