They are the cows that milk themselves. Farmers have teamed up with scientists to create a farm where the cows choose when they want to be milked using automated booths. The new parlour, developed in Holland, is already in use on several British farms. Manned by robots, the system is said to be so efficient that the farmer can even go on holiday and allow the animals to look after themselves. Supporters of the system say it not only saves time and money but shows “respect” to the cows by allowing them to manage their own lives. Opponents claim it is the ultimate in “factory farming”.
“The cows set their own agenda,” said Neil Rowe, manager of Manor Farm at Marcham in Oxfordshire which has switched to the system. “It’s about autonomy, it’s about enrichment, it’s about stepping back and allowing the cows and the system to develop a relationship.” On the farm Rowe manages, cattle wander from field to parlour when they want to be milked. They find their own way into automated milking stalls, where a computer scans a microchip implanted in the animal’s collar which holds information on its milking history and health.
Robotic milking machines, based on car assembly lines, then locate the cow’s udder guided by lasers and ultrasound. The equipment prepares the cow by washing, sterilising and massaging its teats before collecting the milk — which is instantly cooled and stored. The animals are lured into the parlour with inducements including a hair-brushing and scratching device which they can turn on themselves using a “nudge trigger” and a fan to blow away flies.
They also get a choice of hot and cold water. “It is amazing how the cows take to it,” said Rowe. “They’re very organised. Three or four cows will wait patiently to be milked, while the rest are chewing the cud or grazing. Given the choice, I think nine out of 10 cows would want to be here. They’re now a lot less stressed and more content.” Other perks include an hourly mechanised “mucking out” system and even piped music. If a cow develops a problem while being milked, the system alerts the farmer on his mobile phone.
There are now more than 30 farms in Britain using the automated system, which has been investigated by the Institute for Animal Health and the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust. Rowe, 46, who manages 100 organic cows, has been awarded a two-year scholarship by the trust and will publish a thesis next year. Earlier this year Rowe used his laptop to manage his herd from a hotel room in Pennsylvania, America. “I could change the fields the cows were grazing in by opening electronic compressed-air gates,” he said.
John Stones, director of the Nuffield farming trust, said: “It’s an exciting thought that cows can choose to be milked and that there is no coercion.” John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University, said the system indicated a basic intelligence in cows. “Most cows adapt to it very quickly,” he said. “Although you will find a few cows who can’t be bothered, and they have to be culled.”
Joyce D’Silva, director of Compassion in World Farming, said: “This system can bring relief to the cow’s bulging udder, but she is under such pressure because we have bred her to produce so much milk. We are worried that this development will lead to an increase in factory farming.”
Augh! Only an animal rights activist could manage to oppose such a fantastic innovation! It’s great for the farmers, since they save countless hours of daily hands-on work. And its great for the cows, who get to be milked and massaged whenever they please. (But sheesh, what’s up with “the cows who can’t be bothered” to be milked?!? Are they retarded, lazy, insensitive to pain, or what?)
Although the article doesn’t indicate one way or another, I do wonder whether this system also increases milk production. If a cow can be milked when it pleases, such that its udder is never super-full, it might just make more milk.