Before robots, David Matlak would spend nearly eight hours a day milking cow by cow, twice a day in the parlour. He is a fourth generation dairy farmer, and runs the Nicomen Island farm with the help of family, but no other employees.
Automation has allowed David more flexibility to spend time with his young family of four, said his wife Aimee Matlak – and the cows love it too.
“We couldn’t go to a family dinner or anything. Christmas was, you know, after we got in from the barn,” Aimee said.
“Now if we have other plans, he’s totally cool to leave the farm and it’s going to be okay.”
Robot milkers are not exactly a new technology, but over the last two decades, they have become more advanced, while coming down in price, David said.
It’s still an expensive investment – $600,000 on three robot milkers – but one that provides for more freedom for both cow and farmer alike.
“I knew I was going to grow my family, and I’m going to want to start doing more things,” David said.
The robots run 24 hours a day, with cows walking up to them on their own accord, attracted by a tasty grain containing molasses.
A camera and laser scans each cow, the robot adjusts to her measurements and washes her utters before attaching. A six-minute milking session ensues as the cow snacks on a sugary treat.
The Matlaks installed the three robots into their new barn in November, and have since seen milk production increase from an average of 36 kilograms a day per cow to 48 kilograms.
They’ve been able to slightly downsize the number of cows they keep by 20 per cent, David said; and a happy cow produces more milk.
The robots know when a greedy cow has already been milked after scanning it, and will boot it out of line. Aimee said their average cow is milked three times daily, but one loved the grain so much it tried to go through 26 times one day.
“The cows love it. Cows are super curious characters, and they love routine,” she said. “Once they figure out there’s grain in there, they are always running to the robots.”
A built-in computer provides diagnostics on each cow’s temperatures, bacteria, protein, and butter-fat levels, allowing farmers to catch problems sooner. Warnings are sent directly to the owner’s phones if something goes wrong.
Automation is the direction dairy farming is headed, Aimee said, as land is in short supply and expensive, farmers are having to produce more milk with less cows.
“The farm is doing so much better now,” she said. “It gives him more time to put in work on other areas of the farm.”