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OM in the News: Cows Now Milk Themselves With Farm Robotics

May 1, 2014


Robotic milker at a NY farm

Robotic milker at a NY farm

Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York, reports The New York Times (April 23, 2014). The cows are milking themselves. Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand. The view is improved as well. “Most milking parlors, you really only see the back end of the cow,” says one farmer. “I don’t see that as building up much of a relationship.”

The cows seem to like it, too. Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking 5 or 6 times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past. With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,” a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation. The robots also monitor the amount and quality of milk produced, the frequency of visits to the machine, how much each cow has eaten, and even the number of steps each cow has taken per day.

Farmers say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals. “I’d rather be a cow manager, than a people manager,” adds a farm owner. The machines cost up to $250,000 for a unit that includes a mechanical arm, teat-cleaning equipment, computerized displays, a milking apparatus and sensors to detect the position of the teats.  Some owners expected a dip in production as their cows got used to the machines. But the cattle were quick learners. “It just clicked,” said one. “One day we came in and they had started milking themselves.”  We think your students will enjoy this very down-to-earth 3 minute video embedded in the article.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is this an OM issue?
2. What other technologies noted in Chapter 7 can be employed in this industry?

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