Robots, Researchers & Dairy Cows..Oh My!

I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, but I still shared the same Saturday morning fantasy of all farm children: a robot to do your farm chores while you sleep the day away.

At Michigan State University’s (MSU) Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) new dairy facility that dream is a reality.

With the help of a three-year $3.5 million development grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, KBS established a pasture based dairy facility that utilizes an automated milking system.

The new facility will support a 120-cow milking herd, plus dry cows and heifers.  It also includes a new freestall barn equipped with two Lely Astronaut A3 Robotic Milking Systems and is located in the middle of a 160-acre irrigated pasture.

How does a robot do the job of a highly skilled farm laborer?  See for yourself:

Will dairy farms across Michigan soon start milking their cows with robots?

Probably not, but with the tough economic conditions dairy producers are facing today it is no surprise that many operations are seeking new ways to cut costs and increase profitability.

Many of these producers, both conventional and pasture-based, are turning to research done at MSU for guidance.

Prior to the establishment of the KBS facility, however, MSU had not conducted any pasture-based dairy research.

“The development of a pasture-based dairy at KBS allows us to expand our portfolio of production alternatives for farmers and to develop new research and outreach programs that fit with interests and needs of diverse farm stakeholders,” said Karen Plaut, chair of the MSU Department of Animal Science.

In addition, the KBS facility will be home to animal behavior research focusing on animal behavior and health in grazing systems.  Video cameras were installed in the freestall barn to record the cows’ behavior 24 hours a day.

With all the new research going on, many dairy enthusiasts are eager to experience the KBS dairy for themselves.

On August 19, they’ll have that very opportunity at KBS’ Open House for the Pasture Dairy Research & Education Center (Adobe pdf).

Representatives from MSU, KBS and Lely will be stationed throughout the facility explaining the different research projects being conducted and the new technologies being utilized.

You can bet I’ll be there!

Just because I don’t own a pasture-based, robotic milking dairy farm doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the continued agricultural innovation and research going on at KBS.

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