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  • High-Tech Automation Improves U.S. Cow Care

    By Mark O'Keefe August 3, 2016

    Robotic milking frees a Wisconsin farm family from manual tasks, giving them more time to focus on animal health, performance and reproductive management.

    It’s 6 a.m. and a new day is dawning at Knigge Farms in Omro, Wisconsin. The first thing Charlie Knigge does is sit down at a computer in the milking barn and check records generated from a robotic milking system.

    knigge47.jpgKnigge, 39, illustrates a high-tech approach to dairy farming automating as much day-to-day work as possible, resulting in increased efficiency and better cow care. 

    While companies like Vietnam's Vinamilk (see last week's article, Bigger Role for Robotics in U.S. Dairy Plants?) have been ahead of most U.S. dairy processing plants in automation, U.S. farmers have been rapidly adopting robotics for several years. 

    Knigge Farms is the first dairy in the United States to install robotic milking, some 16 years ago. Charlie Knigge estimates that more than 100 farms in Wisconsin now have robotic milking systems.

    'Hundreds of inquiries'

    The Knigges are sought by other farmers for automation advice. Over the past five or six years, Pete Knigge, Charlie's father, says he has received “literally hundreds of inquiries” about robotics.

    “It’s rare that a week goes by when someone doesn’t come by to look at the robots,” he says.

    At 6 a.m., in front of his computer, Charlie Knigge is especially interested in cows that are not visiting the milking stations often enough. If a cow isn’t visiting the stations at least twice a day, it may be a sign that she is not feeling well or there is something in the feed ration that needs to be adjusted.

    This is one of the ways the Knigge's keep a watchful eye on their cows. Since they don’t have to worry about milking the cows—the robotic milkers do that—they have more time to provide care for their animals.

    High-tech alert system

    Computerized records alert the Knigges to cows that may need special attention, such as those whose milk production has slipped in recent days.

    “There is all sorts of information that (the robotic milking system) gives us every day,” Pete Knigge says.

    It is indicative of the technological revolution that is sweeping the United StatesRobotics.jpg dairy industry.

    Whether it is robotics, automatic calf feeders, or special tags around the cow’s neck that monitor rumination activity, the U.S. dairy industry is in a technological transformation, points out Jeffrey Bewley, dairy extension specialist at the University of Kentucky.

    Because these technologies create efficiencies, free up workers from manual tasks and generate computerized information, “we’re really focusing on individual cow management so we can improve animal health, animal performance and reproductive management,” Bewley says.

    More time for cow care

    Having more time for cow care has been a pleasant bonus for Pete and Charlie Knigge. For example, they can fine-tune feed rations and groom the stalls where the cows lie.

    Automated milking has also reduced their reliance on hired labor.

    Prior to installing robotic milking in 2000, they faced the prospect of hiring workers because the farm was expanding from 45 cows to 125. But it was difficult to find people in the community who were willing to work milking cows. Robotics provided a way around that problem.

    The technological know-how of American dairy farmers is another reason U.S. dairy products are of the highest global quality—from the best-cared-for cows in the world.

    The following graphic from DairyGood explains robotic milkers from "a cow's point of view."

    (Click on graphic for a larger version.)


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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post. 

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