Editor's note: University of Minnesota Extension co-hosts the first U.S. Precision Dairy Conference and Expo June 25-27 in Rochester. Listen to Marcia Endres, Extension dairy scientist, talk about optional dairy tours Audio File.
New technologies available to dairy farmers are changing the way milk is produced on many U.S. dairy farms.
University of Minnesota ExtensionRobotic milkers (box-shaped red stalls in background) let cows move at their own pace and approach for milking when they are ready. "Precision dairy is the name used to describe several different areas of innovation on dairy farms. The thing all of the various new tools have is that they increase efficiency in milk production," says Marcia Endres, University of Minnesota Extension Dairy Scientist.
Robotic milkers, individual cow sensors, automated calf feeders and inline parlor technologies are some of these innovations.
Robotic milkers, or automated milking systems (AMS) are becoming more popular on Minnesota dairy farms as producers look to improve the allotment of labor on their operations. Robotic milking increases flexibility so family farmers can occasionally be away from the farm and have a better quality of life.
"Milking is a repetitive task that benefits from being done exactly the same each time, which makes it a perfect fit for robotics," says Jim Salfer, an Extension dairy educator in St. Cloud.
The state is one of the leaders in the nation in number of AMS, according to Endres, after the first was installed in 2006. "That growth has been driven by great service, knowledgeable salespeople and interested producers," she says. Salfer and Endres are currently conducting a field study with 52 AMS farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
AMS essentially lets cows milk themselves. Over time, the system also helps improve milk quality. "The cows like it, too," says Salfer. "Instead of being herded into the parlor two or three times a day in groups, each cow can move at her own pace and approach the AMS to get milked when she is ready."
Salfer predicts that farms using robotic milkers will grow exponentially, which could bolster the state's economy. The seventh-largest dairy state, Minnesota exports about $191 million in dairy products annually.
Sensors attached to cows collect a myriad of information that gives dairy farmers more precise information about each cow, thereby helping manage the herd more efficiently and improving herd health and reproduction.
The sensors can provide data related to the cow's temperature, rumination, activity or other characteristics of the individual animal. Endres says this can help producers identify health problems much earlier. Better animal care is one benefit, due to faster identification of illness, which can result in more productivity.