Robotic milking machine could revolutionize dairy farming

A dairy farm on the outskirts of Okawville, Ill., has adopted a technology that has revolutionized traditional dairy farming.  Elm Farms, Inc., is a family farm owned and operated by Norbert Hasheider and his daughter Michelle Hasheider-Burianek. A few years ago the family was forced to make a difficult decision between continuing traditional labor-intensive milking or introducing robotic milking machines.  They ultimately chose to adopt this innovative technology.

Although technology in dairy farming has advanced well beyond the days of milking by hand, the process of milking a cow in the 1980s and 1990s was still rather labor intensive.  A farmer would have to manually place milking devices on the cow’s utters, remove the devices and transfer the resulting milk into a large holding tank. In 1992, the agricultural technology company Lely developed the Lely Astronaut milking robot. This greatly reduces demands on labor, has the potential to increase productivity or yield of milk and provides farmers with detailed information on each cow via a cutting-edge computer program.

Created in Europe, this new technology was first introduced to the United States about ten years ago and was installed at Elm Farms, Inc., three years ago. According to Hasheider, his family switched to this robotic system to reduce expenses and issues with labor and to increase efficiency. Although purchasing two machines cost the family half a million dollars in up-front expenses, they hope to earn this amount back in a few more years.

With two machines installed in one open barn at Elm Farms, Inc., cows walk in to be milked at their own will. When they step onto the machine, a laser scans a small device on the cow’s collar that identifies the cow and immediately notifies the computer that this specific cow has returned to be milked. The machine weighs the cow as a robot cleans each utter and scans the utter to correctly place small cups that suction out the milk.

During this process, information such as how long ago the cow was milked, how much feed the cow has eaten, and how much milk has come from each utter is measured and sent to the computer where Hasheider-Burianek monitors the cow’s health and productivity with the given data. Although the detailed computer system makes it much easier to oversee the wellbeing of the farm’s 130 dairy cows, Hasheider –Burianek commented that the data provided from the machine only solidifies what she can tell by interacting with the animals on a daily basis.

Elm Farms, Inc., is one of the first dairy farms in Illinois to use the Lely Astronaut milking robot.  The farm averages at least two tours a week of people from around the country interested in learning about the robot that is revolutionizing the dairy industry.  The Hasheider family welcomes visitors and prides themselves in being innovators who, most importantly, produce quality dairy.

Natalie Helms

About the Author Natalie Helms

As a science and agricultural journalism major and eager freshman, I am excited to begin my writing career at the University of Missouri. I am from a large suburb south of Chicago called Orland Park, and I am the first in my family to travel to Missouri for school, let alone major in an agriculture-related field unusual for my urban/suburban background. As a writer for CAFNR Corner Post, I hope to provide the CAFNR community with credible and intriguing information while acquiring the necessary skills for success in the science and agricultural journalism industry.