Rights: The University of Waikato Published 1 March 2006 Download

Milking is a demanding part of a farmer's job. Automating this process could have massive benefits for the dairy farming industry, but farmers won't be the only ones that benefit. Jenny Jago and Kendra Davis explain.

Dr Jenny Jago (DairyNZ formerly Dexcel): The main reason we are doing this is really to see if there is a better way of milking cows. At the moment, if you look in a farmer’s day, they milk the cows typically twice a day and it’s a very manual task. You have to go out and get your cows, bring them into the yard, put the cups on, milk them, and then shut the cows away in the paddock. It takes quite a lot of time out of a farmer’s day, spent on milking. He also has to get up early; sometimes at half past 4 in the morning, and they don’t finish their day until 6, 6.30 at night in some situations, so a very long day.

Dr Kendra Davis (DairyNZThe key potential advantages for automated milking in New Zealand … I think one of the big ones is to reduce the labour requirement on farms. Now that won’t necessarily mean that a farm that employs two farm staff now only employs one. What it might mean is the farm staff work shorter days, and can have more days off by alternating between them, which makes it a much nicer working environment and a much more attractive industry to come into. So that is the next advantage is the retention of staff.

Dr Jenny Jago (DairyNZ So we are looking to see whether we can improve the working environment and the lifestyle of the farmers, and also improve the lot for the cow. In this system, it’s essentially called a voluntary milking system. So the cows, to a certain extent, choose when they come to get milked, so they are not moved in large mobs. There is a lot of freedom to move from the paddocks to the dairy, to the robotic milkers.

The cows would benefit, potentially, through automatic milking, mainly through reduced stress, because they are not being moved in large mobs of cows. The stress is really important because if you have an animal that is really stressed she won’t produce as well, so she won’t give you as much milk. She is also more likely to get sick, and then of course she won’t produce much milk. She is also less likely to get in calf if she is under a lot of stress. So it’s really important, stress is a key thing on farms, and farmers always try and minimise the stress on their animals.

Farming has changed a lot over the last 50 years. If you look specifically at milk harvesting, or milking, it wasn’t so long ago that people were hand milking, and then we moved on to walk-through dairies, and then the development of the rotary dairy which is where the cows basically go on a merry-go-round. It allowed people to milk large numbers of cows in a short space of time. And it’s really through that innovation and the development of improved herringbone dairies that New Zealand has become the world’s best batch milkers in terms of efficiency of the milking process. So the industry has changed a lot over the last 50 years, and I think its going to change a lot more as we go into the future as well.