Happy Cows Makes Dairy Farms Less Stressful, More Productive
As Israelis mark the Shavuot holiday with the traditional indulgence in delicious dairy products, one startup is working to ensure that the process from farm to plate is as easy on the animals as possible.
A new milking method developed in Israel places the cow’s comfort at the center of the process, easing stress for both animal and farmer, cutting down on expensive manpower and boosting the milk yield.
Dairycs’s “Meadow Sense” robots not only milk the cows with specially developed mechanized arms at any time of the day but also use artificial intelligence to track almost every aspect of her wellbeing – from mental and physical health to how much individual udders should be milked at any given session.
The process makes for happier cows, producing more milk of a higher quality, Dairycs says.
“The revolution is changing the management method and moving from herd level management to an individual level of management,” Jonathan Asher, CEO of Dairycs and co-founder alongside Managing Director Eyal Brayer, tells NoCamels.
“Our system is an AI-based computer system that learns each cow and builds a specific individual profile for each cow that is most suitable for her needs and for capabilities of milk production and age,” he says.
“It takes into account a lot of parameters that a human farmer cannot take in. The computer can make real time decisions at a level that no human farmer can do. And by that we build a specific profile for each cow.”
Most dairy farms milk their cows using one of two standard methods, Asher says.
The most common is the “parlor method,” in which farmers direct their herd into a large space that contains all their milking equipment three times each day, “in a very strict routine.”
The issue with this method, according to Asher, is that “each session can take up to two hours. The entire routine and lifestyle in the farm is circled around these sessions and it’s not fun for anyone.”
The second most commonly used method is the automatic milking system (AMS), which involves “robotic booths which the cow is supposed to approach voluntarily” and which “milk the cow without human interference,” Asher says.
But like the parlor method, AMS involves herding the animals into an enclosed area for milking – in this case, individual booths.
“There’s no real motivation for the cow to approach these booths,” Asher explains, “so the farmer has to apply heavy manipulation on the cows to force them go through these booths.”
This manipulation includes trying to lure the cows into the booths with food rather than herding them, but, says Asher, “also increases the stress levels on the farm.”
His company’s solution “is built around the cow’s life,” he says, and involves their robots deciding when an animal is ready to be milked and doing so while she eats in her own feeding area – something that can happen up to 10 times a day.
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“We realized that there must be a better way, because these two methods are built around the action of extracting the milk from the cow. But that’s not right: If you want to have a successful farm, the key is to provide better life conditions and welfare for the cow.”
The mechanism also monitors the health of each animal, although the details of how this is conducted is “the biggest secret in our system,” Asher explains.
“I could only share the points for feeding but we monitor the cow the entire time,” he says. “We know her trends, how many times she approaches to eat, how much food she consumes each meal. And the relation between the food and the milk is linear.”
Dairycs also places sensors on each cow “to check for behavioral changes” that could indicate an unhappy or sick animal.
“Farmers lose a lot of money due to health issues,” Asher says. “So we built an algorithm for early detection of teat infections, according to behavior science [used] on the cow. We could actually prevent a lot of infection going to a clinical level and by that reduce production loss for the farmer.”
Cow contentment and milk yield aside, the system also increases profitability by reducing overall costs.
“We reduce the property size, we increase the efficiency and energy usage and increase milk yield, milk quality, cows’ health,” according to Asher.
This also includes reducing the workforce as less direct management of the cows is needed – a welcome step given the chronic manpower shortages faced by many agriculturalists around the world.
“The critical problem that all global farmers today have is with labor,” Asher says.
“A lot of farms are being shut down because farmers cannot recruit and retain workers. And this is a huge problem in both the United States and in Europe as well as kibbutzim.
“Moshav dairy farms are also struggling to keep up because it’s impossible to retain workers. Foreign workers are really hard to train and the turnover is huge,” he says.
Meadow Sense is still in the testing stage at Kibbutz Eyal in central Israel, which will also be the site for the pilot scheme set to be launched next year. Asher says he hopes that successful widespread implementation at Eyal will persuade other Israeli farmers to use the system.
“Israeli farmers are the best early adopters for technology in the world,” he says.
“Israeli farmers are the number one farmers in the world and the Israeli cow is the number one cow in the world.”