Jenny Jago explains that when combined with the use of rewards or incentives, the gate system gets cows to report to the dairy for milking on a regular basis.
Dr Jenny Jago (
On the farm we have a fairly complex gating system because we need to be able to direct the cows’ traffic. We need to be able to have some control over where they go and when. So what we have is a system where we have selection units, so the cows walk from their paddock, go down the race into a selection unit, and then there is computer controlled gates where decisions are made about whether a cow should be sent to the dairy to be milked or not. So those are controlled by a computer. But then we also have on the farm cow operated gates. We call these one-way gates. These are gates that look like Texas doors, or double gates basically. They are only about a metre wide and there are two of them. The cow pushes on them and when she pushes on them they open. They will only open in one direction, so if she turns around and pushes on them to go back, they won’t let her through. So they are cow operated gates, and they allow us to control where the cows can get access to on the farm without having lots of computer needs around those gates, the cows can simply operate themselves.
We have gates on the entrances to the selection units where the cows can get access to water, and that is also where they can also get access to new grass. So as the cow leaves the selection unit, sometimes you get through to nice fresh, lush grass, and so it’s a big incentive for her to go to that selection unit. Other places we’ve got gates as they come into the dairy. The dairy is where the milking robots are. In the milking robots there is a little bit of crushed barley or concentrate for the cows. So an incentive for her to go through those gates to get into the waiting yard is the prospect of some food in the milking machine when she goes in there. And they are the main ones really.
The cows really quickly learn where the get access to these incentives - where they can get their water, where they can get their grass, where they can get their concentrate, and they just use the gates. So they are a pretty clever part of the farm actually, and in fact the cows are very clever at using those gates and learning how to use them. Because on a conventional farm there are always fences and gates and they are always closed. But on this farm some gates if cows push against them will open. So it’s quite a thing for a cow to have to learn.