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Coming to a farm near you - robots

Father and daughter organic dairy farmers Louis Hall and Jennifer Breen of Orwell stand with Lely Group distributor Paul Goden beside twin Lely Astronaut robots that milk cows on the hall-Breen Organic Farm as needed.

Father and daughter organic dairy farmers Louis Hall and Jennifer Breen of Orwell stand with Lely Group distributor Paul Goden beside twin Lely Astronaut robots that milk cows on the hall-Breen Organic Farm as needed. Photo by Louis Varricchio.

— The robot revolution in Vermont farming will not be televised. Instead, it will quietly transform dairy operations as we know it today.

The robot revolution is actually an electronic revolution which includes everything from iPad farm apps to automated, self-directing tractors—part of an experimental effort by heavy equipment maker John Deere—and the use of real-time, remote-sensing NASA satellite imagery (of acreage moisture and crop infestation) for farmers to peruse.

Here in Vermont, the robot revolution is occurring in the barn with the latest generation of so-called robot milkers.

Last week, the 143-year-old Hall and Breen Organic Farm in Orwell—among the oldest farms in Vermont—opened its doors to farmers from Addison and Rutland counties to see demonstrations of its twin high-tech robomilkers called the Lely Astronaut, the brand name for the automated milking units. The units replace the need for hiring some farm hands.

The farm started using the robots in January, but owners Hall and Breen waited until now to unveil their family secret and display all the data collected so far. (As an aside, we’re not quite sure what an “astronaut” has to do with robot milking, but the Space Age concept is never-the-less revolutionary.)

The milkers, built by Dutch-owned Lely Group, are silent giants.

Each huge, distinctive red unit—which look like Star Trek sci-fi shuttlecraft—includes tubing, circuitry, sensors, brushes, displays, software, and other gizmos only a computer geek could appreciate.

The units, each about the size of two passenger vans combined, automatically milk cows, 24/7, as needed.

Each of Hall-Breen’s 150 or so cows has an electronic transponder built into its collar, so the robots can sense each individual cow as she approaches the milker. Other electronic sensors are located inside the arm of the robot, just beside where the utter is placed.

During milking, cow’s milk is continuously monitored per quarter, providing data on mastitis, fat, and lactose.

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