Automation Helps To Increase Animal Welfare On Czech Farms
In order to help save time and increase animal welfare, scientists from the Faculty of Agronomy at Mendel University have designed a system to control the movement of dairy cows. Photo credit: Freepik
Czech Republic, June 8 (BD) – In recent years, the labour shortage has significantly affected the livestock sector. Automation of certain processes may be one way to deal with the problem. Scientists from the Faculty of Agronomy at Mendel University have designed a system of automatically controlled movement of dairy cows from the barn to the point of milking and back, which not only saves time but also contributes to greater animal welfare. The innovation was tested in the agricultural cooperative that appeared in the cult Czech comedy Vesničko má středisková.
“Raising dairy cows with milk production is one of the most complex production processes, requiring a large amount of human labour. The aim of our project was to create a technological device that would ensure the controlled movement of dairy cows from the stables to the milking parlour and back without the need for human factors,” said Daniel Falta, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Agronomy at MENDELU. In normal operation, the cows have to be driven to the milking parlour by farm employees. The researchers have tested and introduced a new variation; at the time of driving out the animals for milking, a chain belt is lowered in the barn, which, accompanied by an acoustic signal, starts to move slowly from one side of the section to the other, towards an automatically opened gate leading to the milking parlour. The cows will then move without human assistance and only meet humans for the first time in the milking parlour.
This not only saves human labour, but is also more comfortable for the cows. In many cases, the presence of humans has a rather negative effect. “Sometimes the employees themselves are nervous, which can be seen in the way they shout at the animals or treat them inappropriately. Eliminating stress is crucial for dairy cattle farms. Stress has a negative effect on milk production in lactating cows. In addition, animals are more likely to fall and injure themselves or damage their hooves, for example, when trying to move quickly,” said Falta.
The experts launched the new system exactly one year ago. “It is already clear that automation has proved its worth. The main advantage is the overall calming of the cows during movement. Our theoretical assumption that automation would make the animals more relaxed has been confirmed. The cows don’t take the machine as the aggressor, which makes it much easier,” said Falta. The whole process of retraining the cows to the new system did not take more than a week, as most of them reacted to the opening of the gate itself and the usual milking time was also important for them.
The installation of the technological equipment in the cowshed included a partial experiment. In it, the researchers evaluated how the system affects the overall time of moving the cows, the length of milking, the amount of milk produced and the animals’ heart rate. The results of the experiment showed that the unattended system did not conclusively slow down the milking process, but instead led to calmer animals during milking and, as a result, higher milk production. “So we can say that not only has human labour been saved and productivity increased, but also that the system has contributed to more relaxed cows, who are able to produce more milk because they are not stressed,” said Falta.
After a year of live operation, the “tweaking” is not over. “We are planning further developments and improvements to make the technology more autonomous and intelligent. For example, by adjusting their speed to moving cows or stopping in advance of an obstacle,” Falta added.