It isn’t just the milking systems that have been getting a facelift in recent years.
Farmers also use feed pushers, mechanical scrapers and ventilation systems to ease day-to-day operations.
Feed pushers serve both cows and farmers, Marcia Endres, Ph.D., a University of Minnesota animal science professor, said.
“A feed pusher is like a huge Roomba, and it pushes the feed closer to the cows,” Endres said. “Cows are usually fed once, maybe twice a day, but as they start eating, their feed gets further and further away from them. Feed pushers help cows gain access to the feed, and in turn, produce more milk.”
Dr. Lindsey Borst, a veterinarian and farmer in Rochester, Minnesota, said feed pushers are a major help in boosting productivity on her farm.
“By the time you come back at 4 a.m., those cows haven’t been fed since the night before,” she said. “We saw an increase in the fat and protein in the milk when the feed also gets pushed overnight.”
Farmers also use automatic scraper systems to remove manure and other waste from the barn.
Farmers are even controlling their ventilation systems to maximize not only the cows’ comfort but also productivity. Cows are most comfortable at 45 degrees, and ventilation can be used to regulate temperature.
“Smart fans can be installed over the cows. …They turn themselves on and off automatically based on the temperature and humidity in a specific area of the barn,” Endres said.
Kristin Quist of Minglewood Dairy in Deer Park, Wisconsin, with a focused on ventilation in her barn. Some harsh Wisconsin winter weather highlighted its benefits.
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“We’re able to make the environment very cow-friendly,” she said. “The polar vortex in late January of 2019 caused -32 degrees outdoor temperatures, but our robot barn never went below 32 degrees with the use of proper ventilation. Our parlor barn was between 0 and -10 degrees.”
In a general sense, the cows welcome these automated technologies.
One 2021 study — in which Douglas Reinemann, Ph.D., professor of animal science at the University of Wisconsin — was involved, focused on cows’ social interactions while part of an automated milking system.
“A steady stream of cows that present themselves for milking is required to keep the AMS fully engaged in the milking process and cow movement may be influenced by social grouping structure,” the study noted.
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