There’s a time-honoured romance to the agricultural way of life. The simple act of milking a cow harks back to a bygone era at the dawn of the agricultural revolution. And yet modern dairy farming is constantly searching for new innovations - and the latest can boost milk yields, enhance milk quality and reduce the costs associated with producing the white stuff.

Here are a few of the latest technologies that are beginning to transform dairy farming.

Track the health and habits of your herd from anywhere

Imagine a Fitbit for bovine-kind. Then stop imagining and say hello to the cow collar. Yes, the wearable technology trend has come to the farm yard. And with cow collars you can gather a huge amount of data on the health, habits and happiness of your herd.

Information such as steps per day and rumination is collected and sent to a portal that you can access from anywhere via laptop or smartphone. You can also share any abnormal data with your vet, making it easier to detect illness and resolve it faster.

But the real benefit of this wearable tech is that it allows you to detect when a cow is in heat. That means you can align insemination with your cows’ natural cycles and boost the chances of healthy pregnancies. And when you maximise the chances of healthy pregnancies, you maximise the chances of enhanced milk production.

Go sky high for your bottom line

Trudging the fields on a cold winter’s day to keep an eye on your business isn’t always the best use of your time. What if there was a simpler way? With drone technology, you can monitor the location of your herd and make sure everything is as it should be - without even leaving your chair.

Drones are also useful for monitoring your land. For example you can quickly identify any perimeters that need repair, or areas of land that are dry and need watering - potentially saving crops that would otherwise have perished. In short: drones make it a doddle to monitor your business.

Get to know your herd like never before with facial recognition  

Facial recognition technology is nothing new. What is new is its application on the dairy farm. Trials are underway that harness facial recognition technology - using details such as pelt patterning, distance between the eyes, length of face and so on - to detect each cow in a dairy farmer’s herd.

The technology then gathers data on the typical behaviour of each cow and can send alerts when one of your herd is behaving erratically: walking irregularly or missing feeds, for example. That allows you to take action fast. Another way facial recognition technology is being used is to track the link between each cow’s food intake and their milk production. Watch this space.


Enhanced production through robotic milking  

Cows don’t like change. Yep, for cow-kind it’s consistency that goes down best. That’s just one of the reasons robotic milking technology is beginning to take off.

Robotic milking has been commercially available since the early nineties. Yet thanks to dramatic improvements in the technology and the compelling prospect of enhanced milk yields, more and more farmers are making the switch to robots.

So how does it work?

Driven by the motivation to relieve pressure in their udders - not to mention nibble on food while they are being milked - cows choose when they go to be milked. Once in the milking pen, lasers guide the milking equipment onto the cow’s teats and the milking process begins. It’s a non-invasive, highly repetitive process - and cows love the consistency. No stress, no set milking times, no frenzied rush to the parlour. That alone works to enhance milk production.

Thanks to special sensors - or collars like those mentioned above - farmers can collect all kinds of data on each cow’s health, production levels and milking frequency. The robots can even collect data on milk quality, fat content and white blood cell count - diverting milk to a separate container for calf consumption if it’s not suitable for humans.

There are benefits beyond enhanced production and milk quality too. Milking is one of the hardest and most labour-intensive aspects of dairy farming. Finding committed staff for the dairy parlour can be a challenge. Yet when milking is done automatically you save a huge amount of time and labour expense. What could you do with those extra hours?

A brush for bovine-kind

Ah, that’s the spot. So says the bovine who just sidled alongside the swinging cow brush. Four million cows around the world are getting groomed on demand thanks to this natty piece of tech, the movements and brushes of which cover all angles of the bovine body.

The brush begins rotating when a cow makes contact with it - and stops when they walk away. It works to stimulate blood circulation and keep cows comfortable and happy. And by now we know that happy cows are productive cows. So why not groom your herd profitable?

What next?

There’s no doubt about it. The latest technologies available to dairy farmers are capable of transforming productivity as well as profits. But in an industry where margins can be thin, where do you find the capital to purchase such innovative technology? Well, that’s where funding comes in.

>> What funding is available to help dairy farmers invest in technology?

You may also be interested in:

>> Quality in, quality out: how to get peak productivity from your dairy herd
>> How to improve dairy cow fertility through nutrition
>> More fat, more profit: are you feeding enough fats to your dairy herd?