The quiet tech revolution overtaking the dairy farming industry

Robotics and IoT technology are changing the nature of dairy farming by reducing labor and increasing profitability.

The quiet tech revolution overtaking the dairy farming industry

Jack Rodenburg is a certified CowSignals trainer and founder of DairyLogix Consulting. He sat down with TechRepublic's Teena Maddox at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference to discuss the technological advances in the dairy farming industry:

Rodenburg: The world of dairy farming is really starting to change. Dairy farmers have always looked for efficiencies in terms of improving their output per unit of labor. But traditionally that's always involved building a bigger machine so that the man on it could accomplish more. And that has always, that kind of mechanization, has always led to larger farms because the bigger machine is only justified and gets enough hours in a very large dairy.

And so until now we have seen a fairly rapid increase in dairy farm sizes in North America. What the change that I'm seeing now, is that robotics is essentially taking the man off the machine, whether we're talking milking or feeding or whatever. And that makes it possible to reduce labor on a much smaller scale operation. And I think this is really creating a resurgence in profitability for the family farm with the two to three hundred cows.

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Well, we have sensors that we mount on the cows so they would monitor ... First they would identify the cow, so that we can collect information from her. But there are sensors that actually with a microphone. We'll record the chewing sound so that we have a measure of her rumination, which is a good indication of her metabolic health. All the same kind of sensors can monitor body temperature.

We can monitor activity and so if the cow is ready to be serviced, to be bred, she's much more active than normal. So that kind of information comes out of sensors. We also have in-line sensors in the milk flow that can measure milk temperature, that can measure different hormones and compounds in the milk. That can again tell us things about her udder health, tell us things about her metabolic health and also about her reproductive status.

Well, I worked for 34 years for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture as a dairy extension specialist. Retired in 2008, but much too young to quit working, and I was already doing a lot of work then on robotic milking and other precision technologies on dairy farms. So I set up the DairyLogix company with one partner.

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And the two of us do design work for robotic milking facilities and I do a lot of speaking and also trouble-shooting and so on, on a lot of these precision and sensor-based systems. Well I think this really is a bit of a quiet revolution. It's not something that we hear a lot of noise about but I know if I look today in my own area in Canada, a dairy farmer investing in a new milking system is 60%, 65% of the time, he will choose the robot rather than a milking parlor.

And I think that trend is starting to happen all over the world. I'm seeing it in Australia and New Zealand. I'm seeing it in the US. It started on smaller dairies, but it's happening now on very large dairies as well.

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