June 4, 2016


Transforming the bush: robots, drones and cows that milk themselves : Rural Australia is being progressively hollowed out of its people. Will it be reduced to a vast mechanised place of scant human habitation? (Paul Daley, 3 June 2016, The Guardian)

Two commercial models of FutureDairy have been operating since 2012 on large-scale Australian dairy farms, one in Tasmania and the other in Victoria. About 36 other commercial farms in Australia employ the smaller-scale robotic technologies of other innovators to do what has hitherto been the backbreaking manual and, later, semi-automated, work of dairy farmers for well over two centuries.

While the name FutureDairy is freighted with prescience for an era yet to be reached, it is, in fact, already arriving and transforming the economies and lifestyles of the early adopters. Its positive implications for dairy production are no less profound for animal welfare and, of course, for the wellbeing of the dairy farmer - a person who, almost invariably, endures the unforgiving rigidities and relentless physical work of milking cows by virtue of birth rather than choice.

No less acute or obvious are the potential ramifications for the dairy farm labourer. On a conventional Australian dairy farm the rule of thumb is one human for about 100 cattle. So, a farm with 400 cows would probably employ four people, nearly three-quarters of whose time is spent milking (the rest would be dedicated to feeding, feed production and animal welfare).

But at FutureDairy each of the cows, once in the dairy yard, moves on to one of 16 milking points on the rotary platform. As the platform gently turns, robotic arms wash the teats and attach the cups. The milk is extracted, the teats disinfected and the cups flushed. About eight minutes later the cow steps off the revolving platform and into a yard, where it receives a feed reward before being allowed into fresh pasture. Each cow is identified by a dongle around its neck that electronically records and transmits the time and volume of its last milking.

Sensors on the drafting gates that separate the dairy yards from the pasture automatically read each cow's data. Those who've been milked too recently are sent back to pasture instead of on to the robotic milker.

The farmer can control all this remotely: checking yields and production mechanics on an iPad and needing to attend the dairy only in case of a malfunction, after an automated phone call or text.

Not a single person needs to touch a cow during any 24-hour milking cycle.

Posted by at June 4, 2016 11:07 AM