Robotic Milking 101

Cabot farms are more than just home to the cows who produce the fresh, creamy milk that makes our award-winning dairy products. They’re also home to cutting edge technology that’s revolutionizing cow comfort, improving farm efficiency, and moving farming forward.

On robotic milking farms, cows set their own schedule and milking is more efficient, which means cows have more time to rest, and our farmers have more time to care for their herds. #cabotcheese Click To Tweet

Robotic Milking may sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but in truth, it’s already been around for several years, and represents the bold spirit of innovation that our farmers have embraced for over a century. Robotic milking is great for farms because it gives cows full control over when and how often they get milked, which gives farmers more time to focus on caring for their herd. Additionally, it ensures that chores & schedules are more flexible – allowing farmers more time to plant, harvest crops, or attend their kids sports games!

Here’s how it works:

Step 1:

When they’re ready, cows voluntarily enter the milking stall. A sensor reads a chip usually located on a collar around each cow’s neck and either begins prepping the cow for milking—or releases her if she’s been milked too recently and needs to wait until later.

Cows at Foster Brother’s Farm eagerly awaiting their turn

Step 2:

Grain is dispensed for the cow to nibble on, based on her specific nutritional needs. A cow producing more milk will be provided with more grain to match her individual caloric needs. Simultaneously, a robotic arm brushes and disinfects the cow’s teats and attaches the inflations. The robotic milker collects 3-5 gallons per visit, stopping and detaching automatically when milking is finished.

The cow’s teat is getting cleaned prior to milking

After the teat is cleaned with cleaning solution, a robotic arm attaches the milking machine

Step 3:

After all 4 quarters are finished milking, her teats are sprayed with an iodine solution to help seal the teat ends and the cow is released to roam the barn, visit the feed bunk, get her back scratched or socialize with her friends while the next cow enters.

The ladies love getting a nice scratch in the barn

From start to finish, the whole process takes around 7 minutes. When you consider that cows usually get milked 2-3 times per day, this means that they spend no more than 21 minutes in an entire day being milked. This incredible efficiency allows cows to rest and socialize more with other cows, and lets farmers focus even more on improving the lives of their herd and their family.

Cows at Foster Brother’s Farm relaxing in the free stall barnThe robotic system also keeps detailed records on each cow’s milk production including total milk yield, time spent in robot, milk temperature, butterfat and protein levels, number of visits to the robotic milker and much more. The farmers can use all of this information to tend to the cows whose production may be low or inconsistent.

Rachel Freund from Freund’s Farm looking over some data

Robotic Milking is already thriving on a number of Cabot farms, many of whom were the first in their states to adopt this exciting technology. Let’s meet some of them!

The Duffy Family, owners of Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, Massachusetts, installed their robotic system in 2011, becoming the first in their state to do so. Great Brook Farm is also located on a state park and welcomes over 100,000 visitors every year.

Tamma & Mark Duffy

Mark giving tours to local students.

In March, 2016, Freund’s Farm in East Canaan, CT, was the first in the state to install a robotic milking system, and is also home to over 1,200 solar panels that generate enough electricity to power the farm, and even send surplus energy to the local grid.

The Freund Family

Amanda Freund watching over the Robotic Milking

Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury, Vermont, installed their robotic milking system in 2018, and was named 2019 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year. As home to one of the first “cow power” anaerobic digesters in the state, it’s easy to see why the Fosters’ efforts to create renewable energy and be more sustainable are celebrated.

The Foster Family

Technology on the Foster Brothers Farm

Other Cabot farms who have invested in robotic milking include Kenyon Hill Farm from Cambridge, NY, Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, UConn Department of Animal Science, Hastings Farm in Suffield CT, Sweet Pea Farm in North Ganby CT, and Echo Farm Puddings in Hinsdale NH.

With so many exciting benefits, it’s easy to see why farmers and cows alike are excited about robotic milking. After all, the more rich milk Cabot farms produce, the more rich Cabot cheddar we can put on your table. And perhaps we’re a little biased, but we think you can never go wrong with more cheddar.

Comments (10)

Audi Kennedy | May 18, 2019 | 12:30pm

I grew up on a tiny farm in So. California, and watched my dad milk our “Heffie” twice a day for 5 great years. That was the best time of my life (!!!), and I cherish all those dear memories.
My dad worked in the Feed & Grain industry, with his focus on cattle. All the dairymen that were his customers loved him (so did we!). I think that these innovations are fabulous and if my dad were still alive, he’d appreciate them as well.

Al | May 18, 2019 | 2:49pm

Thanks to everyone for taking such great care and respect for these great animals. Growing up on a farm we learned to love and treat with care all of our animals.

Mary Hutto | May 18, 2019 | 9:08pm

I love knowing how things are made. Thank you! This robotic milking process must be a God-send to the farmers. Amazing! The cows seem to really like it.

Donna Beeckman | May 19, 2019 | 4:30pm

Hi! This seems so neat for the cows. Is the system up and running 24/7? Do if a cow wants to milk during the night, she can? Just curious. Thanks!

Sandy | July 07, 2019 | 10:49pm

Do the cows ever get to go outside and eat fresh grass? I’ve never seen a dairy farm where all the cows are inside all day – here they usually spend most of their time out in the grass only coming in for milking. Just curious. 🙂

    Rachael | July 09, 2019 | 7:54am

    Hi Sandy, thanks for your question! Because we’re a cooperative of over 800 farm families, each farm has different practices as far as pasturing due to the land available for those practices, etc. Some do pasture, and some have very technologically advanced barns that have everything the cows need – food, comfy water beds, fans/misting machines, etc. So it really varies from farm to farm. What does not change is the comfort of the cows – that is always the most important factor. Thanks for reading! ~Rachael

Elsie Bornstein | July 12, 2019 | 11:39am

Hi! This is so great. Is there a dairy farm in NH using robotics for milking that we could visit? My friend is an AgEd teacher and I have worked in the field as well as we have both been involved with FFA. We would love to see this first hand. Thanks

    Rachael | July 15, 2019 | 7:42am

    Hi Elsie – thanks for reaching out! We will email you more information and we can try to get something set up! ~Rachael

Sandy | July 17, 2019 | 12:28am

Hi Rachael, Do the cows that pasture outside also use the robotic milking outlined above? Do they just come inside when they want/need to or are they more old school coming in at set milking times and being milked by the old style milking machines? Thanks

    Rachael | July 17, 2019 | 2:33pm

    Hi Sandy! Like I mentioned before, each farm has a different set up. Some robotic herds may offer pasture. If they do, the main advantage of the robotic milking is that the cows set their own schedule, as opposed to having to wait to be milked certain times of day with traditional milking machines. This new system is meant to be voluntary, allowing cows to choose when and how often they get milked. Each cow has her own schedule and does not rely on a set milking time. Hope that helps! ~Rachael

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