Study shows robots calm lactating cows
AUTOMATIC MILKING systems significantly changed cow and human handler relationships, according to the results of a PhD candidate study at the University of Sydney Dairy Research Foundation.
According to Ashleigh Wildridge, 25, cows became quieter with a significant reduction in their fear of humans and, as a result, human handlers had to be more assertive.
In February 2015, Ashleigh set out to test existing anecdotal evidence that dairy cattle were quieter in Automatic Milking System environments.
She says there are around 40 robotic dairy farms in Australia using an average of four single-box robotic milkers and 250 cows and that this number is growing slowly.
She investigated four pasturebased and one indoor dairy transitioning from conventional to automatic milking in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales.
Key findings arising from the study included the fact that AMS farmers were able to spend less time physically managing lactating cows and were freed from milking duties to carry out other valuable on-farm duties.
At the outset, Ashleigh randomly selected approximately 70 lactating cows, painting a mark on them for easy identification in later flight distance and handling tests. She then spent three days observing and recording farmer routines.
“As the study progressed and the cows transitioned to automatic milking, I noted that farmers had had to become more vocal to get their cows to move,” she said.
“I measured ‘flight distance’ of the 70 cows and found that there had been a significant reduction in the distance at which a cow would react in fright to human proximity when cows were being milked in the AMS.
“There had been a significant reduction in the animals’ fear of humans.
“In a handling test, we drafted the 70 cows and the farmer put them through a gate one at a time and we observed the fact that the cows had significantly reduced stress responses after they had transitioned to the AMS.”
Overall, cows milked automatically appeared to be less fearful of humans compared with when they were previously milked conventionally.
Ashleigh’s study was completed last year and formed one of five different projects she has undertaken for her PhD.
The University of Sydney Dairy Research Foundation at Camden, south west of Sydney, is a vital guardian of the keys to the future of dairy science, according to its director Professor Yani Garcia.
The foundation, he says, is a modest building with the future of dairy research inside in the form of a committed group of hard-working PhD candidates and teachers.
Studies conducted by Ashleigh Wildridge has tested anecdotal evidence that dairy cattle milked in robotrs are quieter.