The role of new technology in the dairy industry

Automation technology is changing the way we produce milk, and the benefits are far-reaching: improved profitability, milk quality, lifestyle and animal welfare. It can also provide us with information about the cow that we have not had before, to support decision-making. But is automation and new technology for everyone, and is it the only way to stay profitable? We asked Dr. Jeffrey Bewley, Assistant Professor at University of Kentucky and expert in precision dairy farming, how he sees the role of technology in dairy farming.

- What does new technology mean to the dairy farmer and the dairy farming industry?

"These new automated technologies have the potential to change the way we manage cows. We will now be able to understand each cow’s condition in a way that we previously might have only dreamed of. The potential to catch cows in heat with limited human observation or pharmaceutical intervention is the most exciting prospect economically. Being able to catch sick and lame cows sooner will improve treatment success resulting in reduced disease losses, increased longevity, and improved animal well-being."

- Is automation and new technology always the best solution to remain profitable?

"Absolutely not. The basics of doing everything we can to provide the cow with a comfortable, minimal stress environment still hold true. It’s important to remember that a technology only tells us what is wrong. It’s up to skilled herdspeople to make a decision on how to react to an alert. Good cow people will always be an asset to a dairy farm. And, prevention is always more effective than treatment. These technologies are designed to supplement skilled herdspeople, not replace them."

- How do I decide what level of automation is best for me?

"To some degree, it’s always going to be a personal decision. The most important thing is that the technology needs to be an economical investment. It’s important to be careful not to invest in something just because it sounds like a good idea. It has to provide a return. The technology should fill a void or need on the farm. If you already do a great job with visual heat detection, maybe an automated heat detection system isn’t for you. Technologies also need to be easy to use, reliable, and come from companies that put a high priority on customer service. Finally, it’s always good to talk to existing users of the technology."

- What are the biggest challenges in the process of adopting new technology? How do I know if it will work for me?

"The biggest challenge is learning how to interpret the data. There is always a learning curve. The next biggest challenge is recognizing that the technology itself may not fix the problem, but rather tell you where the problem is. A management intervention or change may be required after an event is observed to reap the benefits of the technology."

- What does a profitable dairy farm look like 5 or 10 years from now? Will there be precision dairy farming all over, or will there be other ways of milking cows profitably?

"Many progressive farms will incorporate precision dairy farming technologies into their daily management within the next 10 years, but not all dairies will adopt these technologies. There will be plenty of successful dairy farms in the future that maintain profit with less technology by focusing on good cow care, nutrition, etc."


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Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
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Jeffrey Bewley
Assistant Professor
University of Kentucky