Self-Milking Cows to Help Aussie Farmers Get More Z's?

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The docile, habitual nature of dairy cows gives Fulkerson faith that the animals will easily adapt.

"I thought it was a crazy idea at first. But I saw it in operation and thought it was revolutionary," he said.

"Most farmers are really interested in innovation, but automatic milking might seem too revolutionary. It conjures up images of things being more artificial, when it's really the reverse—you allow the cows to come up when they're ready to be milked," Fulkerson added.

"The big push to adopt automatic milking will come from people wanting a better lifestyle and not wanting to do the milking twice a day."

Future Dairy

New South Wales Minister for Agriculture Ian Macdonald, said: "The technology represents a more natural milking system, where cows are milked when they want to be, and farmers are not tied down to the strict routines previously associated with dairy production."

Macdonald's department is one of several partners in the project, which also includes the University of Sydney, the dairy industry trade group Dairy Australia, and milking-machine manufacturer DeLaval.

The program is seen as a way of ensuring the long-term viability of the state's 1,050 farms, which are worth about (U.S.) $290 million to the economy.

"This type of collaboration is essential to ensure the dairy industry is getting the best on offer in terms of new research and innovative methods in order to stay competitive and sustainable," Macdonald said.

Remote-Sensing ATVs

The FutureDairy project is also testing how well specially equipped all terrain vehicles (ATVs) can monitor available forage in pastures.

"It's hard to measure how much is there. A farm is so big, just walking around it is hard work," Fulkerson said.

Four-wheeled ATVs adapted for Australian pastures in collaboration with New Zealand company C-DAX will take the work out of the walk. Sensors attached to the vehicles could monitor how much feed grows in each area of a farm.

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