When Pigs Fly and Cows Get Waterbeds
Carrie Park ‘16
There are lots of “Leadership” groups around the country. Generally, they follow a similar format, but because of our economically unique and diverse county, LMC has a day that many others do not: Agricultural Day.
A new stop on the agenda this year was a visit to Ramsier’s Willow Spring Farm in Rittman. To keep pace with the dairy industry, the Ramsiers are using not only robots to milk their cows, but also a modified “roomba” to feed them. It was nothing short of eye-popping to the class of ’17 who have named themselves, “The Collaborators.”
“Understanding how much technology is used in today’s farming practice is
amazing and can really show someone what truly goes into putting food on the
tables for us all.”
In 2010, the Ramsiers were faced with a difficult decision. They could either get out of the business or they could do a massive upgrade and take things to the next level. Started in 1943, the farm has always been family operated. After visiting an open house at another dairy that showcased how technology could increase milk production and decrease injury and illness, they decided to move forward into the brave new world of tech-savvy farming.
“The robot dairy barn. Wow.”
For those not familiar with the process of robotic milking, it starts with each cow wearing a special collar around its neck. The collar has both a transponder to record the cow’s vitals and a microphone to listen for inconsistencies in cud chewing and swallowing. It’s like a giant cow Fitbit. The farmer can check every cow’s health in a short amount of time by observing graphs generated on a computer. Illnesses are caught faster and breeding windows are identified with pinpoint accuracy.
The milking part happens in a special stall in the barn. The cow walks in on its own when it wants a “treat”. Once in, the robot reads its transponder and a mixture of food made specifically for that cow is dropped into a trough. While the cow eats, lasers map her underbelly and identify where her udder and teats are in order to direct brushes to cleanse the area before the milking equipment swoops in and attaches. It takes an average of seven minutes to milk each cow. When the process is complete, the door to the stall opens and the cow wanders out. Next customer, please!
“The entire milking process was amazing! I enjoyed watching the cows hang out until they wanted to be milked.”
Across the barn from the milking robot, some cows were lined up to eat while a giant “roomba” called a Juno silently moved past them pushing feed within their reach. Another cow was accessing a black and red brush that began to scrub her back when she walked under it. And finally, there were the waterbeds. Oh yes, the Ramsier cows sleep on waterbeds. The beds, filled with water, line the bottom of the stalls and are not only more comfortable, but help to reduce injury when the cows get up and down.
“I was struck by how happier cows make for higher production.”
At the end of the day, it was obvious from the multitude of comments on the surveys returned by “The Collaborators” that Agriculture Day had given them food for thought.
“The process from the milk leaving the farm to how it arrives at the supermarket is something I would like to learn more about.”
“The amount of business in farming–it is far more complicated than this ‘city
“Their cows have a better lifestyle than some humans that I know.”
*italicized comments are from survey responses
**graphic by Connor Wells
Leave a Comment