Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Ol' MacDonald ...

... E-I-E-I-O.

We have farmer neighbours whose family name is MacDonald. But these days, the lyrics from the famous old children's song wouldn't describe their farm. No 'oink, oink' or 'cluck, cluck'. They have only one species of farm animal and that is dairy cows. Lots of them!

They raise pure bred Holstein cattle and the milk cows have recently moved into a brand new dairy barn. One of the owners kindly gave me a tour of their new building. I was gob-smacked at the level of automation.

The new, ultra-modern barn has two robotic milking stations, each capable of milking seventy-five cows several times a day or night. The robots keep track of precise data including volume and quality of the milk each cow produces and her daily weight. The cows voluntarily enter the milking station for a tasty treat, dispensed if they are due to be milked. Each cow wears an electronic tag, enabling the milking station to recognize her. If a scan of her ID tag indicates the cow is due to be milked, a yummy feed reward is dispensed in an amount customized to her production data. The robot then cleans her teats, attaches the milk cups and milking commences. If the cow is not due to be milked, no treat is given and the gates open to release her.

Not only is the milking chore fully automated but so is feeding, stable cleaning and even grooming. Not for the first time, I wonder "How can the future possibly improve on this?"

At most farms, there is the occasional sound of a cow bawling. During my visit to this particular farm, I heard not a moo from the herd. They were content. And why not? They walk on rubber flooring and bed down on dry sand. They were relaxed and friendly, well fed, nicely groomed and content to enjoy their pampered modern lives.

The feed mixture smelled wonderful. These cows seem to agree.

A cow enjoys her dairy ration while being automatically milked.

View from the milking station.

Milk collection unit.

Dairyman Shawn, chats as his robotic feed mill distributes cattle feed.

The milk cows are free to feed whenever they want.

Newly freshened and about to freshen cows lounge nearby.

The cows choose to lie down on beds of sand.

Throughout the barn are automatic grooming brushes.

Some of this year's future dairy stars.


  1. I have read about this, and wonder, how do they get the cups to attach to the teats correctly? I remember doing it by hand for years, and then with a totally " Hands-on" approach was always a bit fiddly. But then, I was only aged 12 to about 16 or so!!! Clean, contented, what more could any girl want in life.

    1. I watched as lasers scanned a young cow's udders to guide the milking cups into place. The whole operation was gentle and patient. Back in the day, our small family dairy farm supported us and we all lent a hand, so to speak. Mom and Dad had strong hands from untold hours of milking. By the time I was growing up, we had two milking machines that had to be lifted around. When they were full, they were pretty heavy to carry to the milk house. Our grandparents would be astonished to see today's farming methods.

  2. Florence, I can't tell you how much I loved this post. I know next to nothing about dairy cows and I pass them on my travels daily, always curious about what their lives are like. I too am amazed by the extreme level of automation present on a modern day farm. It is so reassuring to know the cows are so contented. Thanks for putting this together.

    1. Thanks for taking time away from your busy moving chores, Jocelyn. I feel tired just thinking about all that sorting and packing and unpacking. Hope it all goes well.

  3. I love this post. I, too, have heard of such, but never seen them.
    My current client speaks of the dairy farm her FIL had. She REFUSED to milks cows, but would clean the cans. When they bought the farm from him, they went to beef cattle!


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