Digitisation has arrived in the agriculture sector. In Cowshed 4.0, robots are feeding and milking the animals. The digital systems also record important measurements about their health – and turn the farmer increasingly into a data manager.
A shed in the Black Forest: the cows are able to move freely. Some animals are eating at feeding stations; others are relaxing in boxes or taking themselves to be milked. This is made possible by digital automation technology. In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Development and Economic Affairs published a digitisation plan. In the meantime, nearly a fifth of farmers have automated the cowshed.
Individually customised animal feed
A robot is responsible for feeding the animals in Cowshed 4.0. It fills itself up several times a day with fresh wheat, maize, soya, etc. It then moves along the troughs and fills them up. Scanners show it where it needs to add more feed. The robot can also vary the composition of the feed for the individual cows – so that each animal is taken care of according to its needs.
The calves also receive their food in the digital shed automatically. The automatic drinking trough supplies the animals according to a set drinking plan with individually and freshly prepared age-appropriate portions. The drinking trough is heated up to the optimal temperature for the calf.
Milking when the cow wants
A milking robot is responsible for milking the cows. It operates for up to 24 hours a day and can be visited by the animals at any time they choose. First of all, brushes clean the udder. A laser and a camera then determine the exact position of the teats. The teat cups dock automatically and tap the milk.
The robot’s milking arm houses a hybrid system made up of electrical and pneumatic components with software for controlling its movement. It brings the arm into the correct position under the cow so that the milking process can start. If the cow moves, the arm automatically follows it and adjusts to the cow’s change of location.
Smartphone instead of pitchfork
Intelligent components in the robots record all kinds of data during feeding and milking, such as rumination, the calves’ drinking speed, and the quantity and quality of the milk delivered. The measurements reveal information about the health of the animals. If, for example, the cows deliver an unusually low amount of milk or the calves drink slower than usual, this may indicate illness. Technical faults relating to the robots are also saved.
The farmer can use an app to access data on a smartphone or computer in real time and be immediately on the spot if there are problems in the shed. Some health problems in the animals and technical faults with the machines can be prevented in advance. The farmer also has an exact overview about how much the production of milk currently costs. Digital automation technology is increasingly turning the farmer into a high-tech data manager – a trend that is set to continue in the years to come.