Cow-milking robots the new face of dairy farming
Automatic systems leave the cows to decide when and how often they want to be milked as 5G and robotics comes to agriculture
They may look like regular cows, but a herd of Friesian dairy cattle at a British farm are internet pioneers and they are enjoying the benefits of 5G connectivity before you.
Cisco Systems, which is developing network infrastructure for the emerging technology, has set up 5G testbeds to trial wireless and mobile connectivity in three rural locations, according to Reuters.
5G promises super-fast connections, which evangelists say will transform the way we live our lives, enabling everything from self-driving cars to augmented-reality glasses and downloading a feature-length film to your phone in seconds.
While it is being used in pockets of pilot studies around the world, the first near-nationwide coverage is not expected in countries such as China, Japan or the United States until 2023, according to industry analysts.
For the cows, among the 5G-connected gadgets they are wearing is a collar that controls a robotic milking system.
When the cow feels ready to be milked it will approach machine gates that will automatically open. The device recognises the individual to precisely latch on to its teats for milking, while the cow munches on a food reward.
At the government-funded Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) in Shepton Mallet, in south-west England, around 50 of the 180-strong herd is fitted with the 5G smart collars and health-monitoring ear tags.
The gadgets do not harm the cows and the monitoring allows handlers to see any signs of distress.
"We are testing the ability of 5G to transmit the data from our sensors much quicker, and not via the farm's PC and a slow broadband internet connection," said Duncan Forbes, project manager at the Agri-Epi Centre.
"And the significance of that is it means that this sort of technology could be taken up ... not just on farms but on rural communities right across the country."
The working dairy, set up by Agri-EPI with the support of Britain's innovation agency, uses a range of technology; including automated brushes that rotate when the cow rubs up against them, sensor-operated curtains that open depending on the weather, and a smart feeding system that automatically delivers food in the barn via ceiling-mounted rails.
"We can connect every cow, we can connect every animal on this farm," Cisco's Nick Chrissos said.
"That's what 5G can do for farming, really unleash the power that we have within this farm, everywhere around the UK and everywhere around the world."
Different countries throw up different challenges when it comes to robotic dairy farming.
For example, according to Dairy Australia, the national services body for the country's dairy industry, much of the Australian dairy industry is pasture-based. Any automatic milking system (AMS) must rely on voluntary movement of cows to and from the paddocks, and be able to handle large herds.
Current research is examining the constraints for successful implementation of AMS into the Australian dairy industry.
In Europe, over half of new milking machine installations involve automation, according to the association. These AMS are single box units with the capacity to milk about 70 cows each.
Only a small number of dairy farmers in Australia have implemented the AMS single box unit on their dairy farms.
Updated: April 14, 2019 02:22 PM