One of the challenges on the Greenfield farm, New Zealand's first fully automated farm, has been to get the cows walk voluntarily from the paddock to the robotic milker in the dairy. Kendra Davis and Jenny Jago explain how incentives are used. "Selection units" are also important, controlling whether the cow goes to the dairy or back to the paddock.
Dr Kendra Davis ()
If we put cows in a paddock and just let them wander to the dairy when they like, they could come as many times a day as they like. Then we would get some cows that would come three or four times a day, and we might get some cows that only come once every two days. So it’s really important that we have a controlled system. The gating system that we have put in place allows us to put incentives in place for the cows to get them moving around the system. What we have is called a selection unit, and it really is the hub of the cow traffic for the farm. In that selection unit, the cows walk through one way gates to get into the selection unit. As they leave that selection unit they go through an electronic drafting process.
Dr Jenny Jago)
And when the cow leaves the selection unit she walks over an aerial and she is identified, and a message zooms back down to the dairy and says that cow number 15 is now in the selection unit. Do you want to milk her? Is she ready to be milked? And a decision zooms back down the line, and it says “Yes, she hasn’t been milked for 12 hours and we need to milk her,” and the gates will automatically change and she will have to go down the race to the dairy. If the message comes back “No, this cow was milked 4 hours ago, we don’t need to milk her,” the gates will turn another way, or open in another direction and she goes off back out into the paddock.
Dr Kendra Davis)
If you just put the cows in a paddock and give them a selection unit with no incentives, they are not going to use it. So in the selection unit is the cows’ drinking water. They don’t have water at the pasture, but they can come to the selection unit as many times a day as they like to have a drink. But the really big factor is that twice a day we open up a fresh break of pasture, so we allow cows access to a fresh break of pasture, and to get to that fresh break of pasture they have to go through the selection unit. So we talk about this being a voluntary cow milking system. But really it’s not that voluntary, because if you tell a cow, here is your grass, come and get milked when you like, that’s really not going to work. So our cows are…it is somewhat voluntary, but they more or less get trapped in a system that they learn the only way out is to come up and get milked, so they can get out to that fresh grass.