Bringing farmers out of the barn and back to the family
By Michelle Linington
Robotic technology has become popular across many industries, and agriculture is no exception. In dairy, for example, cows can decide for themselves when they want to get milked, thanks to the popularity of automatic milking systems (AMS). These robotic systems save producers time, letting them spend fewer hours in the barn and more time with friends and family.
AMS systems have become popular in the last 15 years since their introduction to Ontario dairy farms, and can now be seen in more than 200 farms across the province. AMS runs 24 hours a day, and can alert the producers when issues arrive. AMS save the average farm 18 per cent of their labour, which can be spent in the fields, with family, or on other tasks.
AMS uses an identification system that lets a milking machine recognize each individual animal. When the cow decides she wants to be milked she enters the robot, where she is given feed, typically a pellet, as a reward. A robot arm cleans the udder, attaches the milker, and records valuable information, such as milk yields, for the farmer.
The robot also has the ability to divert any milk from a cow away from the refrigerated tank that doesn’t measure up, ensuring the product that leaves the farm meets high Canadian standards.
The University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been monitoring the popularity and uptake of AMS. Last summer, researchers completed a survey consisting of 30 farms with AMS technology. The project uncovered information about production, feed consumption and barn layouts.
Specifically, it revealed that cows in a typical AMS system produced 31.5 litres of milk per day, which is similar to the overall provincial average of 30.4 litres per cow per day.
The project also found that cows were typically split into two main feeding groups: milking heifers and milking cows. These two groups received pellet allocations based on the individual cows days in milk and the production levels though their lactation.
Dr. Tom Wright (OMAFRA) along with Profs. Vern Osborne and John Cant (University of Guelph, Department of Animal and Poultry Science) organized the survey as a way to get a baseline of knowledge for current AMS producers, and for producers who are debating switching to this technology. This survey looked at nutritional information, management practices and production information.
“It’s a labour-saving-technology that has allowed individual cow support and rationalization of time management on the farm,” says Osborne.
Robotic technology is not limited to milking on dairy farms. Activities such as feeding the cattle, pushing up the feed, and cleaning the manure alleys can now all be done at the push of a button, or by a computer program.
“The most important part is to regain that family time,” Osborne says. “It more of a social impact these machines have.”
Contributors to this project included Progressive Dairy Operators, Post Lely Center, Norwell Dairy Systems LTD., A&L Labs, the University of Guelph, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and CanWest DHI.
Michelle Linington is an animal science student working with the SPARK program in the Office of Research.
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