It appears that cows prefer robot milkers.
Rather than following a human schedule of pre-dawn mornings and late afternoons, the robots respond to what the cows want. Perhaps 5 or 6 times a day, the cows line up in front of the milker, waiting, as milk cups are attached and lasers do their job. Each cow is monitored with a transponder around her neck, lasers familiar with her underbelly and computers that know milking speed, quantity and even how many steps she takes. Most cows quickly figure out the equipment. And, they must like it because they keep returning.
One farmer said that between the price of the robots and his barn’s modifications, the 2 milkers for his 100 cows required a $1.2 million investment. However, when milk prices went up because of more demand for Greek yogurt and cheese exports to China, so too did his incentive to mechanize his operations. The milking robots freed him to do more productive tasks. They also cut labor costs by eliminating room and board, health insurance, overtime and workers’ compensation.
The robots, though, are only the beginning. High tech genetics let farmers produce cows with a milk-friendly body. You just have to find the right bull, artificially inseminate, and then hope for success. Feeding too, targeting the lactation cycle, is mechanized, .
Our bottom line is that we are talking productivity way beyond the world of dairy farming. Here is what our robot future might look like:
Sources and Resources: Looking at dairy farming tech, the NY Times robot article and Planet Money’s visit to a NJ dairy farm perfectly illustrated the technology and its impact. Then, Kevin Kelly on econtalk and in Wired took the robotics discussion to the next stage. Also, for auto robotics, here is BMW.