UConn dairy herd revolutionized by automated milking system

(File photo/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut’s Kellogg Dairy Center will begin using robots to milk its dairy herd in April 2018, according to the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR).

The program is a 1.8 million-dollar collaboration between the Department of Animal Science, CAHNR, the Dean’s Office, the Provost’s Office and the UConn Foundation, according to Naturally@UConn. The two-year effort was spearheaded by executive program director Mary Margaret Cole.

According to Naturally@UConn, the new method, known as a Voluntary Milking System, will have the cow enter a small pen when she feels the need to be milked, and the system will utilize a laser-guided suction apparatus to extract the milk. (http://naturally.uconn.edu/2017/10/17/robots-are-coming-to-the-dairy-center/)

This contrasts the former system of a trained worker physically milking the cow at set times during the day, according to the CAHNR website.

In order for the system to be implemented, the UConn dairy herd must be trained to interact with the robots, according to Dr. Steven Zinn, professor and head of the Department of Animal Science.

“They get milked, they get bribed with a little bit of food and then eventually they realize this is where they go to get milked,” Zinn said. “It takes two to four weeks for them to adopt the new system.”

Robotic dairy farming is still in its early stages in America, following an upward trend internationally, according to Zinn.  

“(They’re) not very common yet. Robotic milking is becoming more and more an option within expanding farms,” Zinn said. “It’s much more popular in Europe.”

According to Naturally@UConn, the system will utilize tags on the cows that monitor various elements of their health and milk production.

“(The tags monitor) change in milk production, change in the quality of the milk, change in how much the cow moves around and whether or not she comes in to milk,” Zinn said. “These are all part of the management observations that determine whether or not she needs to be checked further for some kind of medical issue.”

As the facility is an educational space as well as a production space, the Kellogg Dairy Center will also place an emphasis on the learning opportunity of the technology. According to Naturally@UConn, the robots will prepare students to work with the latest technology in farming.

The space also provides opportunities for those observing the production process, according to Naturally@UConn.

Dr. Zinn explained that the robots are not replacing human laborers, but rather transforming the milking process and allowing workers to give more individual attention to the animals.

“It’s a change in management. It’s not a change in labor,” Zinn said. “From my perspective, it allows us to manage the whole animal 24 hours a day instead of just looking at the bottom third of the animals for half of the day.”

In the wake of the facility opening and the Kellogg Dairy Center herd being marked in the top 20 of the country, Zinn is hopeful for the future.

“I think this is a big move for us,” Zinn said.


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu.