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Robotic Milking Machines Being Tested In Cache Valley

Modern dairy operations could be equipped with automated milking machines to help dairymen replace a lagging workforce.

Researchers at the state’s agricultural university, Utah State University, are researching a robotics system that could be used to milk cows. Glen Mickelson is an assistant herdsman at the USU Caine Research Dairy. The dairy is in the process of replacing their hand milking program. Instead of using employees to do the milking two robotic machines have been installed.

“The milking robot is basically just a box that the cow will go into,” Mickelson said. “While she is there she stands on a live scale so we can get a daily weight.”

Once in the milking box, a gate swings in front of the dairy cow. A feed bowl containing a protein pellet is attached to the gate.

“An arm will swing down underneath her belly,” he said.  “That is where the teat cups are that will attach to her in order for her to get milked.”

Detection senor lasers help pinpoint the location of the cows utter.  Each cow is equipped with an electronic tag used to collect data for research. Mickelson said dairy farmers and milk production companies are interested in the results of the study. They want to determine if using robots will help them save money and replace a dwindling workforce.

“It is difficult to find and keep labor,” Mickelson said. “The robots allows farmers to get more done with less help, because they don’t have to worry about milking the cows anymore.”

Joe Coles works at the research dairy part time. He helps monitor the milk cows and measures how milking robots could actually benefit the livestock. At this point, he said the robotic milking process seems to be less stressful for the cows because they are not forced to enter the milking parlor.

“They stay in the barn and we feed them in the barn,” Coles said. “They can lay down whenever they want. It is less stressful for the cows because they are not being moved and being crowded. They can go and get milked whenever they want.”

Robotic milking machines could be used by dairy farmers hoping to modernize their milking operation. Manufacturers of the robot are still trying to find ways to make sure the milking area of the cow is clean and free of contamination. Veterinarians at the dairy said they are also evaluating the amount of time it takes for most cows to adjust to being milked by a robot.