The role of new technology in the dairy industry

As in all aspects of life, advancements in dairy technology are allowing us to farm smarter not harder. The more we utilise these technologies and tools for enhancing the productivity and profitability of dairy farming, the more competitive New Zealand will remain internationally.

The benefits go beyond profitability too, with opportunities to improve farming lifestyles and animal welfare. By providing us with incredibly precise information about each individual cow, we can now do things like catch cows in heat or identify sick and lame cows sooner, therefore improving the success of treatment.

Remember though, prevention is better than the cure and new technology will only tell us when something is wrong. You still need to know what to do about it. Farming know-how still plays a role in being able to interpret the data and take the best course of action. 

Livestock management

There are any number of software and apps (combined with various hardware such as GPS, sensors and RFID tags) that give us valuable real-time data about individual cows. The applications of this are almost endless – what do you want to know about your herd? You can monitor and manage an animal’s health, comfort and stress levels, breeding, feeding, hygiene, behaviour and location, improving the management of livestock, enhancing productivity and improving the quality of production.

Automated feeding systems are another modern dairy farming technology. These assess the needs and conditions of individual animals and optimise feeding on a per-animal basis.

Milking automation

Automatic milking systems (AMS) are robotic systems that automatically complete the entire milking process. Human involvement is only needed to monitor the process and this can be done remotely, allowing you to be working on something else at the same time.

Not only is the milking process automated, you don’t even need to get the cows to the milking shed; the cows come in voluntarily when they feel like it which means the milking shed can operate 24/7 with animals coming in during the night. Research has shown that the preferred milking time for dairy cows is 2am.

How does AMS work?

The cow is given access to the milking shed based on an electronic ID located on her body somewhere (ankle, ear, neck). The cow enters, the teats are cleaned and a robotic arm attaches the teat cups to begin and knows when to remove them by detecting milk flow. If the cow is not due for milking the front gates open and she is released.

Benefits of AMS

AMS allows farmers to divert milk to separate tanks if desired and also collects data on milk quality and the animal (e.g. weight, quarter yield and conductivity, colour, protein, fat, SCC).

AMS have high set up costs but over time this is mitigated by savings made on labour and time. And because the cows learn to come in for milking when they feel like it, they come in more often which results in higher production volumes. One Manawatu farmer reported the cows coming in more than twice a day.

Read the benefits this forward thinking Canterbury farmer has noticed from operating an AMS, such as better animal health and time saved on checking animals.

Things to consider before installing AMS

AMS can take a long or short time to apply the teat cups depending on the cow moving round, the side of the teats and shape of her udder. For this reason, AMS are not the best option for high-throughput dairies based on rapid batch milking. 

You need good mobile and broadband access for alert messaging and remote monitoring.