Farmers Turn to Technology to Help Improve Cow Comfort
Imagine running a business that’s been in the family since 1880. That’s the case for dairy farmer Dean Marshik who now runs his family’s farm in Pierz, Minn., with his wife, Clare Palmquist.
Physical labor takes its toll, especially on a small farm like this. To make sure Marshik Dairy will last for future generations, the two think long-term when making business decisions. That’s why in 2010, they decided to implement a new, technologically advanced and energy efficient barn design that uses robots to do most of the physical labor.
A peak into the barn reveals a quiet, peaceful herd. Most are chewing their cud while lounging on soft beds. From time to time, they help themselves to water or feed. And several times a day, they stroll over to await their turn at the robotic milking machines. Cows are creatures of habit, and this system accommodates their schedule.
The tall barn is built to take advantage of cooling winds all summer, supplemented by energy-efficient fans. In the winter, heavy drapes hang down to protect the cows from the Minnesota cold and snow. A robot constantly sweeps the manure out of the alleys, which is later used to fertilize farm fields. Another robot brushes the cows whenever they choose. Being so comfortable, the cows provide an average of 10 percent more milk.
For Clare and Dean, the use of computers and machines has shifted the focus from the physical labor of milking to thinking, planning, and caring for the cows. The system provides real-time insight into the well-being of each cow, and picks up on potential health problems immediately.
The plan is for Clare and Dean’s son to manage the farm soon. In the meantime, this healthy herd is being well-cared for.
Together, World Wildlife Fund and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are working to address these sustainability challenges and help feed a growing global population while maintaining a living planet. Since 2009, WWF and the Innovation Center have worked to advance mutual conservation goals and improve the environmental sustainability of the dairy industry. We are working together with the nation’s dairy farmers to develop, adopt and share new, science-based practices, leading to a more sustainable dairy industry.