Robots. They rove the red sands of Mars and threaten to take over the world in science fiction movies. But in Oakville, Washington, robots are doing something much different. Just 90 miles south of Seattle, the robots on the Austin family's dairy farm are making life a whole lot better for cows and for the farmers.
Austin Dairy Farm, a member of the Organic Valley Family of Farms, is owned and operated by Jim and Janie Austin. The dairy has been part of the Austin family for 135 years -- and at almost seventy years of age, Jim has been working there for fifty years. Like many dairy farmers in Washington, Jim’s dedication is unwavering. Cows don’t take days off and neither do dairy farmers. Milking needs to be done every day, even on weekends and holidays. Jim Austin couldn’t tell you what a vacation is. Until now.
The Austins recently installed a voluntary milking system using DeLaval’s "robotic" suite of computer-driven equipment. The system is sophisticated and simple at the same time. Each cow has an identifying chip in her ear tag that carries valuable information about the cow. Free to be milked at their leisure, cows leave the pasture whenever they choose and make their way through a series of gates. Certain gates open depending on the information in the chip. For cows that are ready to be milked, they’re given a green light through the gates that lead to the milking parlour.
Once in the milking stall, the robot identifies each cow individually, knowing exactly how she needs to be cleaned and milked. The robot tracks how much milk she’s producing and how fast it’s flowing. The robotics make for a pleasant milking experience and a dairy full of happy, healthy cows.
While robots make milking more convenient for the cows, they also improve the quality of life for farmers like Jim. As a child, Jim enjoyed fishing the local river and climbing the hills behind the dairy; but since he started dairy farming full-time half a century ago, he hasn’t done either of those things. The robotics will grant Jim the freedom to do some of the things he once loved -- and he may get to kick his feet up and relax with Janie on the weekend.
To learn more about the process, watch this Milking Robotics Video.