Study shows ro­bots calm lac­tat­ing cows

Dairy News Australia - - ANIMAL HEALTH -

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.

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