for National Geographic News
The lives of Australian dairy farmers might become a lot easier thanks to cow-milking robots with laser-guided arms.
The machines are being developed as part of a research effort called FutureDairy run by the New South Wales government, the University of Sydney, and dairy industry groups.
Project leader Bill Fulkerson says FutureDairy aims to improve the farming lifestyle and productivity.
"We are trying to address those two things and get systems that produce more per hectare and help farmers reduce their labor times," said Fulkerson, a University of Sydney dairy farm expert.
The automatic milking machines are based on ones already used in Europe with special adaptations for Australia's free-ranging cattle.
"It is basically a robot with an arm that attaches the milking cups to each teat so it milks each cow," Fulkerson said.
He notes that most modern dairies use milking cups that releasebut don't attachautomatically.
"At the moment the farmers put them on themselves," Fulkerson said. "But the automatic machines use lasers to find the udders, and a computer memorizes the configuration of the udder for the next milking."
The machines spare farmers the twice-a-day chore of rounding up their herds and attaching 200 to 300 sets of cups.
Cows can visit milking sheds when they want to relieve themselves of their milk and the discomfort of full udders.
"It is a better lifestyle for the cows and the farmers," Fulkerson said.
A computer monitors how frequently each cow comes to be milked, the time of day, how much a dairy cow has eaten, and the amount of milk it produces.
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