From the October 2018 issue

High-Tech Dairy

Technology really is everywhere, even on dairy farms! But is it safe?

Technology can be such an asset to our everyday lives. It helps us keep schedules straight, stay in touch with family and friends, and even provides us with endless entertainment. But, when it comes to producing our food, question the role that technology plays.

Ashley Kennedy, co-owner of Sheridan Dairy, has embraced technology to help her care for her dairy cows. “Technology has been wonderful for our farm,” says Kennedy. “We use computers to help us track what happens on the farm, even to help us better care for our cows.”

With 240 dairy cows to care for, Kennedy and her husband, Eric, have their hands full.

“My job mainly focuses on taking care of the babies. I make sure they are well fed, healthy and happy,” she says.

In addition to her and her husband, they have two full-time and two part-time employees to help oversee the farm. They work with her parents to grow the crops that provide the feed for the cows–and they have a little help from some technology as well.

Sheridan Dairy makes use of both robotic milking units and robotic calf feeders.

“The robotic milkers are open for business 24 hours a day so the cows get to pick their schedule and be milked whenever they want,” she explains. “When a cow walks into the robot, the computer collects over 100 pieces of information about the cow, monitoring things like her temperature and even how much food she eats, all while collecting milk from the cow.”

The cows also have fitbits in their collars to help monitor their activity levels.

The technology used at Sheridan Dairy has given Kennedy and her family much more flexibility in their schedules.

“Before the robots, we were tied to milking cows at specific times, which was hard when something came up or if we had a family event.”

According to Kennedy, someone always had to make themselves available to milk the cows. “Now, the cows are free to milk themselves when they want to, so if we can’t be there at a specific time, they can still get the relief they need and we can still log their data.”

Of course, technology can’t do everything, and it isn’t something Kennedy solely relies on for information about her cows. “We are still working with cows, and technology just can’t replace cow-to-human contact.”

She and her husband still check up on both the robots and the cows. “We take suggestions from the computer, but we still go out and look at the cows multiple times per day,” says Kennedy. “We watch them closely. Honestly, a human is still the best for identifying a sick cow and what they might need.”

Kennedy and her husband use technology in ways that can help alleviate the workload and better care for their cows. “There’s definitely a balance. I don’t use technology for every little thing,” she says, adding that her desk is covered in handwritten notes. “Often, my husband and I sit down and talk about whether something is working or not and, if it isn’t working, why it isn’t. Then we talk about alternatives and try to find ways to do it better.”

When it comes to using technology on their farm, Kennedy notes that the health and happiness of the cows is her top priority. “We truly appreciate our customers and we work hard to make a safe, wholesome product for your family,” says Kennedy. “I buy my milk at the grocery store just like you do and I want to make sure what I feed my family is safe. It’s important to me that milk is safe and healthy for everyone. The best way to make a safe, healthy product is to make sure our cows are healthy and well cared for and that’s what we do, every day.”

Brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Learn more at milkmeansmore.org.

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