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Photo: James Rajotte/New York Times/Redux

Extension conducts research on robotic milking systems, which benefit cow health, milk quality and life on the dairy farm.

The rise of
robotic milking

Here's something to think about the next time you pour milk on your morning cereal: robots may have helped provide that milk. Minnesota's dairy industry is experiencing a boom in robotic milkers that is leading to less stress for farmers and cows.

"Milking is a repetitive task that benefits from being done exactly the same each time," says Extension educator Jim Salfer. "That's what makes it just a perfect fit for robots."

Robotic milking seems to be a perfect fit for Minnesota's dairy farms, too. The state leads the nation in number of robotic milkers, according to Extension dairy scientist Marcia Endres, after the first was installed in 2006. That growth has been driven by great service, knowledgeable salespeople and interested producers, says Endres, who is conducting research on automated milking systems (AMS), another term for robotic milkers, with Salfer and other Extension dairy team members.

Salfer predicts that more than half of Minnesota farms will be using robotic milkers in another 20 to 30 years, which could bolster the state's economy. The sixth-largest dairy state, Minnesota also exports some $191 million in dairy products annually.

AMS essentially lets cows milk themselves, freeing up valuable time for farmers. Over time, the system also helps improve milk quality. The cows like it, too. Instead of being herded into the parlor two or three times a day in groups, each cow can move at her own pace and approach the AMS to get milked whenever she wants.

And what are the benefits for producers? Most farmers surveyed by Extension cited quality of life as the main reason to switch to AMS. They still work as many hours, but their schedule is much more flexible.

"So many farmers told us, 'I could never go to my kids' games, and now I never miss one,'" says Salfer.

For more information and resources, visit Dairy.

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