WILTON, Iowa - When cows can milk when they want to instead of when farmers get around to it, they're happier and healthier. Voluntary robotic milking systems are popping up at farms in Iowa, especially in smaller operations like Blue Knoll Farms in Wilton where Laura Jones is dairy manager. She said the cows can walk right in and be milked by a robot when they feel the need.
"It kind of just looks like an elbow," she said. "It bends at the center, just like our elbows. It's a little camera laser screen that finds each one and that's how it gets the milking accomplished."
She said smaller dairy farms, like Blue Knoll, which has about 50 cows, are ideal for voluntary robotic systems, but larger operations have been installing them, too.
Jones said the systems are also convenient for farmers because they require far less labor, and their cows are happier.
"It reduces their stress," she added. "Even this summer, I've noticed their heat stress isn't as bad as it has been in the previous years. They just don't seem as hot."
She said after about three months, most cows learn to manage the robotic milkers on their own.
The high-tech system also helps detect diseases like mastitis, an inflammation of the udder, the most common disease in dairy cattle. Jones said the robotic milkers do it by recording the cows' vital signs.
"I can tell if they get sick because they'll drop lower than average and it records every milking, how much grain they eat, anything you can really even imagine how much it's recording," she said.
Jones will be demonstrating Blue Knoll Farms' voluntary robotic milking system as part of Practical Farmers of Iowa "Field Day" events happening throughout the summer.
This article first appeared in Public News Service on June 27, 2016