Robots bring the cows home

The University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR)
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Everybody who knows me knows that the last thing I ever wanted to do was farm but when the people I love most in the world decided that was what they both wanted to do I wanted to make sure that farming would deliver the best possible life for them.

Now lets not kid ourselves only the very brave farm in a world where supermarkets control the supply chain and the people who run the supermarkets in the main have absolutely no idea of the challenges and constraints farmers face today to farm in a socially acceptable way in the 21st century.

There is something else about farming that excites me beyond my wildest dreams and that is the innovation and technology and the resilience of Australian farmers and great minds who help them feed and clothe not only in Australian consumers but many other people around the world. So I am so excited to be able to share this story with you.

Now as my regular readers know the Australian dairy industry so frustrates me. Driven by the mindset at Dairy Australia our farmers are forced to live in this cocooned world that means they rarely get to interact with all the other exciting people who not only farm in other industries but also the amazing people who support people in other industries.

One shining light is the Dairy Research Foundation (DRF) team and the Future Dairy Project. These people are amazing beyond belief and I am so honoured to sit on the board of the DRF and have insights into what is happening with the Future Dairy Project

Let me show you what I mean

With increasing numbers of Australian dairy cows now being milked by robots, researchers are looking at a range of exciting ways to use robots on farm, and one that has already shown promise is the use of robots to herd cattle from the paddock to the dairy.

Delegates at the Dairy Research Foundation’s symposium, to be held at Kiama on 4 & 5th of July will get a sneak peak of Rover, a prototype robot, in action.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Dairy Science Group and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, have used an unmanned ground vehicle (robot) to herd dairy cows out of the paddock.

Dairy researcher Associate Professor Kendra Kerrisk said the team was amazed at how easily the cows accepted the presence of the robot.

“They weren’t at all fazed by it and the herding process was very calm and effective,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“As well as saving labour, robotic herding would improve animal wellbeing by allowing cows to move to and from the dairy at their own pace.”

The robot was developed by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics for tree and fruit monitoring on tree-crop farms. It was used in the initial trial with very little modification for the dairy paddock.

We are keen to explore further opportunities with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. They have a range of robotic technologies which could have exciting applications on dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“While the robot showed exciting potential for use on a dairy farm, it would need to be adapted to operate autonomously on the terrain of dairy farms and its programing would need be customised for dairy applications.”

In addition to robotic herding, some of the possible applications include collecting pasture and animal data in the paddock; monitoring calving and alerting the manger if attention is needed and identifying and locating individual cows in the paddock.

“The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming, in terms of reducing repetitive work, increasing the accuracy of data that farmers collect and making data available that we currently can’t capture.

“Robotic technologies will have a role in increasing the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of Australia’s dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

Does agriculture get anymore exciting than this and let me assure this is not reducing jobs in the dairy industry it just means we can now attract the best and the brightest minds.

If you want to come and see Rover in action to register for the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium visit www.drfsymposium.com.au

Robots bring the cows home