I’ll admit it: the headline drew me in: “Cows texting farmers.” I caught it on my daily scan of ag related websites and news updates. I immediately pictured the cows who stare at me from the barn as I bike by them down one of my favorite routes pushing buttons on a smart phone.
But once I got beyond the catchy headline – and I really didn’t believe a cow would have an iPhone although I’ve seen my cat activate buttons on mine – I realized there was a lot more going on. The story was about research done by Doug Reinemann, a professor in biological systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And the “texting” he referred to was the messages sent by the robotic milk machines to farmers.
On one hand, robotic milking machines are a huge asset to farmers. They work unattended freeing up the farmer and any other staff to work on other projects. On the downside, farmers lose that hands-on contact with their cows. But, according to Reinemann, they don’t lose out on gathering key information and data from their cows. Each cow is tagged so when she comes into the milking stall, the machine recognizes who’s coming in. The machine records how much milk the cow gives and how long she milks.
The text alert comes in when something goes wrong, Reinemann said. For example, if the machine isn’t working properly or there’s a suspected case of mastitis, the farmer can receive a text telling him that’s something wrong. “You can set up a whole hierarchy of alerts and the farmer can decide what information and alerts he wants to get on his phone,” he said.
Reinemann came up with the idea for the “texting cows” story he did with UW-Extension while at a conference. “I was talking to a farmer and his phone went off, he looked down and received a text from the milk machine back at the farm,” he said.
“I thought it was a great advancement. This technology is allowing farmers to go out and work on other things as long as the operation is working smoothly and if it doesn’t, you get an alert.”
After the interview with UW-Extension was published, Reinemann said he was besieged with calls from the news media that wanted to know more about his “texting cows.”
“It was a bit amusing, but it shined a spotlight on just how technically advanced farming is,” he said. “Farming isn’t what it used to be. It’s become a very high-tech industry.”
The milk machines collect all types of data for farmers, which they can use in managing their herd. “All of that information is important to farmers and can really tell them what’s going on with individual cows rather than managing the herd just as a group,” Reinemann said.