Robots in Idaho dairy farms help facilitate cow milking

Posted at 9:59 PM, Aug 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-31 02:10:39-04

In the Treasure Valley, artificial intelligence is changing the way we get around, how we research, and even how we shop for cartons of milk.

But even a carton of milk from a rural farm in Idaho may have been produced with the help of robots too.

“We haven’t milked by hand for decades," said Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. "We’ve moved beyond that a few decades ago."

In the last few years, more and more Idaho dairies have begun implementing robots in their milking facilities.

“The brushes are going up and their scrubbing, each, uh, side of the utter, cleaning the cow, stimulating her, helping to let her milk down," said Jerimy Craig, owner of Box Canyon Dairy. "There’s another employee there that is towel drying them off. Getting them prepared to put the machine on.”

And one thing’s for sure: milking is not what it used to be. The suction tubes that connect to the cow's udders are designed to pulsate in a way that feels to them like real hands, avoiding pain or harm to cows with healthy udders.

But there are clear incentives for the investment. For one, efficiency. And two, it replaces jobs.

“We cut our employee numbers in half," said Craig. "So, that alone, was, is huge.”

And robots are not the only technology being utilized on Idaho dairy farms.

“Every animal has an RFID chip in her. So when they enter the facility, we know what stall she’s in, what time she was milked, and it's recording the amount of flow she gives each day. So we have the amount of milk she’s producing every day," said Craig.

In turn, producing a "sink-or-swim" environment among competing farms.

“No longer can you really succeed by just being a good cow-person. You have to be a great business manager, a great HR person, and really have a whole suite of specialties that we didn’t have to have in the past," said Naerebout.