A boon to the dairy farmer's bottom line, dairy cows' constant milk production is a bane to farmhand productivity, as one fact rules every dairy farmer's life: Cows must be milked. Twice. Every day.
So great is this bovine workflow tyranny that DeLaval, a Swiss dairy technology supplier, has constructed an innovative technological solution that relieves farmers of this duty and places the onus of milking essentially on the cows themselves.
True to the Web 2.0 end-user empowerment formula of many of today's emergent technologies, DeLaval's VMS (voluntary milking system) puts the cows in charge of their own milking schedules. Each cow is outfitted with an RFID collar. When the cow enters the milking parlor, the tag is scanned, providing the VMS with information about the cow's expected production and medical requirements. The cow enters a milking stall, and a gate lowers over its neck to keep it in place. To keep the cow happy during its temporary milking confinement, feed is provided, complete with the necessary medications and nutritional supplements.
The cow now occupied, the VMS swings into action. The cow's udder and teats are washed with an antiseptic cleanser and are air-dried, after which a robotic arm swings a group of teat cups into place.
The cups find their proper location through what DeLaval calls a "high-performance teat visualization system" that employs a camera and dual lasers to aid in proper positioning. Each cow is milked according to its expected output and is then washed and dried once again before being released to head back out to the pasture.
Once out of the cow, the milk is robotically handled according to health regulations and stored until pickup by the dairy co-op or wholesaler. The entire process within the milking barn is dealt with by robots controlled by information from an information-rich database.