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A Look At Techno-Factory Farming: Robotic Cow Milking And Light Therapy

Scientists and engineers are hard at work at perfecting things like automatic teat detection (seriously!) that fully automate the farming process. Does this make it easier for us to produce more food or just herald a dystopian future of factory farming?

A Look At Techno-Factory Farming: Robotic Cow Milking And Light Therapy

For better or worse, the agriculture industry has seen some technological advancements in recent years that make it easier than ever to control massive operations with minimal human input.

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Dutch farming company Lely just celebrated the 12,500th installation of its Astronaut Robot–a robotic milking system that first went on sale 20 years ago. The most recent iteration is so advanced that humans aren’t involved at all. The cows are tracked by motion detectors and 3-D cameras as they wander into the milking station, and a teat detection system (seriously) finds the udders and milks the animals. The device can gather over 2,500 liters daily.

What other high-tech innovations are changing your local factory farm?

Lely produces a lot of them: The company’s feed pusher robot automatically moves along a feeding alley, pushing feed along the fence; the automatic barn cleaner follows a pre-programmed cleaning route; and the cow brush rotates when cows push it, stimulating blood circulation.

According to Lely, cows using its robotic products live the good life. The L4C lighting system, which optimizes lighting for different times of day, provides “a kind of ‘light therapy’” for the cows–and purportedly increases milk production by up to 10%. The Commodus cubicles provide “the herd the comfort, as it were, of a five-star hotel,” though it still doesn’t look particularly inviting. But hey, there’s no accounting for taste.

Are cows happier with these innovations than they would be in more natural conditions? Probably not. But as Singularity Hub points out, innovations like the Astronaut allow farmers to spend less time milking and more time focusing on the health of their animals.

The alternative argument–which is also justified–is that innovations like this just make it easier for factory farmers to rationalize what they’re doing, even though their farm conditions are less than ideal. As long as cows are forced to live in tight conditions, though, we would rather see them get decent care.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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