Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
University of California
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: dairy

UC helps California dairy farmers experiment with milking robots

In dairies with milking robots, cows voluntarily walk into a sophisticated, computerized box when they are ready for milking.
Early in the 20th century, dairy operators traded their milking stools for machines to produce enough dairy products to meet growing consumer demand.

The technological developments were critical to the formation of California's enormous dairy industry, the largest in the nation. Today, more than 1.7 million cows produce 39.8 billion pounds of milk in California each year, according to the California Milk Advisory Board.

The march of progress continues. The state's dairy industry is now beginning to integrate robots and sophisticated computer software into cow barns to maintain the supply of wholesome and inexpensive dairy foods for Americans. UC Cooperative Extension scientists are poised to help them adapt to the new technologies.

On most California dairies, cows are led two or three times each day from the barn to the milking parlor by workers. They clean the cows' udders to remove bacteria and surface dirt, evaluate whether the cow has mastitis, attach the milking machines, and disinfect the cow's teats after milking before taking the cows back to their pens.

“Dairy production is automated, but it is still a very labor intensive activity,” said Fernanda Ferreira, UC Cooperative Extension dairy specialist based at the UC Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare. “Farmers always tell us that the most challenging thing they are facing is labor – labor availability, training and cost.”

Milking robots – a technology already being used in dairies in the Midwest and Eastern U.S., Europe, South America and Canada – promises greater automation, reduced labor needs and improved animal welfare.

View a short video clip of the milking robot in action.

The machines don't resemble a stereotypical robot character, but rather are computerized boxes large enough to fit one cow, with a robot arm programmed to reach under the cow and clamp onto the teats. Cows do not need to be led to the milking machine, but rather walk into the box voluntarily when they are ready to be milked.

The machine recognizes each individual cow by a computer tag around her neck or on the ear, and provides personalized milking service. The robots do all the work: clean the teats, attach the milking machines, and disinfect the teats after the milking is done. While milking, the robot collects data on the cow's output and health.

When it comes to California and all the West, these are very new,” Ferreira said. “We're talking herds that have 1,800 cows on average. Huge herds. Since each of the robotic units, which serve 60 to 70 cows, costs about $120,000, we're also talking about a huge investment.”

Two San Joaquin Valley dairies have already installed milking robots, and many others are interested in the new technology. Ferreira and other researchers from the VMTRC in Tulare are collaborating with one of them to study how the machine and the herd's management can be adapted to better serve large-scale dairy herds like those in California.

“Our idea is to first understand the perspective of the producers who have cows being milked by robots. We want to know what they have learned so far, the challenges they have encountered, their relationship with banks,” Ferreira said. “Relationships with banks are important because most dairies will need to borrow funds to equip their facilities with enough robots for full automation.”

Future research will review issues of milk quality, mastitis management and determine what data farmers will need from the computerized system to improve dairy profitability.

“There are a lot of options available from companies that manufacture the robots. We want to fully understand how they work for our farmers and cows to be able to inform the future of California's dairy industry,” Ferreira said.

Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 10:29 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Innovation

Keeping cows cool with less water and energy

Innovative cooling technologies tested on dairy cows at UC Davis are addressing the long-standing challenge of keeping dairy cows cool in heat-stressed California.

Standard livestock cooling methods, such as fans and sprinkling cows with water, require significant amounts of electricity and water. The new technologies, being tested at UC Davis by the Western Cooling Efficiency Center and the Department of Animal Science, are designed to reduce water by up to 86 percent and electricity by up to 38 percent over conventional methods.

Milk production and heat stress

Milk is the most valued agricultural commodity in California, with $9.4 billion in retail sales in 2014. Roughly one in every five dairy cows in the nation lives in California. In addition to disturbing the cow, heat stress is a major cause of diminished milk production in dairy cows, with annual losses directly related to heat stress exceeding $800 million.

“The process of rumination, where cows ferment their food, produces a lot of heat, as does milk production itself,” said Cassandra Tucker, a professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on dairy cattle welfare. “When the outside temperatures also rise, it's a challenge for the animal in how she's going to try to keep cool. This project is trying to reduce the energy and water use associated with that to help both the cows and the dairy producers.”

How it works

The technologies involve two approaches. The first is conduction cooling, where the bedding area is cooled using heat exchange mats placed where cows lie down. To reduce energy consumption, water flowing through the mats is cooled through a novel evaporative chiller called a Sub-Wet Bulb Evaporative Chiller.

The second approach is targeted convection cooling, which uses fabric ducting to direct cool air onto the cows while they lie down and when they eat. The air is cooled using a high-efficiency direct evaporative cooler.

"This is an exciting research opportunity for UC Davis to combine our expertise in engineering with our expertise in animal science,” said Theresa Pistochini, senior engineer at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center. “There is significant potential to apply existing technologies in a novel way to reduce both energy and water used to cool dairy cows. Through this project we aim to design, test and demonstrate an efficient alternative.”

The project is part of a four-year, $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help improve water and energy efficiency in California's dairy industry. The data being collected now will help determine which technology the team should use to pilot at a commercial dairy in a future phase of the project.

Cows being cooled by a fan.

For more information, contact:

Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-7704, 530-750-9195 (cell), kekerlin@ucdavis.edu

Paul Fortunato, UC Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center, 530-752-0280, 916-412-3022, pfortunato@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 10:41 AM
  • Author: Kat Kerlin
Tags: dairy (5)

Drought guidance for dairy producers

The California Dairy Quality Assurance Program created a drought webpage for dairy operators.
The California drought points to a looming crisis for California dairy producers, according to Mike Payne, dairy outreach coordinator at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security and director of the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP). 

Payne says that one estimate places lost revenue due to the drought from farming and related businesses in California as high as $5 billion. If there is little relief from Mother Nature in the 2014-15 rainfall season, the prospect of devastating effects to California's dairy industry is immeasurable. Skyrocketing feed costs and ultimately more California dairy producers going out of business will likely lead to higher retail prices for dairy products at the supermarket. A dwindling dairy industry will result in the loss of jobs in rural communities as well as to the dairy processing industry in the state.

The CDQAP is a voluntary partnership between dairy producers, government agencies and academia to promote the health of consumers, the health of the environment and the health and welfare of dairy animals, is ramping up drought-related outreach, which will include workshops, assistance application sessions and online resources. The goal of its webpage is to sift through the surge of drought-related announcements and information, bringing back that which is relevant to California dairy producers. Information will continue to develop through the year, as will the outreach to dairy producers struggling with critically limited water resources.

Stay informed of current drought meetings, deadlines for drought assistance programs, CDFA and USDA announcements, and publications such as the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory's UC Whitepaper on Drought-Related Feed Toxicity on the CDQAP website.

Check back at WIFSS Outreach for updates on the drought crisis and other outreach and extension-related projects underway by WIFSS research and scientific staff.

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM
Tags: dairy (5), drought (35), Mike Payne (1)

When oysters and cows collide

California’s scenic Marin County is home to two thriving industries that were once in conflict – oyster farming and dairy farming.

In order to grow healthy and marketable oysters, the farmers depended on clean water in Tomales Bay. But regulations meant to protect the bay from cattle runoff were so strict that dairy farmers feared they could no longer stay in business.

Now, with help from David Lewis, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Marin County, these two communities have found creative solutions that allow both kinds of farmers to share this beautiful and fertile region. Find out how in a four-minute report by Kristen Simoes on UCTV Prime Cuts, “Cooperation Trumps Conflict in Tomales Bay.”

Posted on Friday, July 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM
  • Contributor: Alison Gang, UCTV Prime Cuts
Tags: dairy (5), David Lewis (3), organic (9), oysters (1)

World's first LEED Platinum winery, brewery and food-processing labs

A new winery, brewery and food-processing complex at the University of California, Davis, is the most environmentally sophisticated complex of its kind in the world, one that promises to unravel scientific enigmas and solve practical problems related to foods, beverages and health.

The $20 million, 34,000-square-foot teaching-and-research complex is the first winery, brewery or food-processing facility expected to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is intended to become self-sustainable in energy and water use.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said, "It will serve as a model for industries throughout the nation that are also committed both to environmental excellence and production efficiency."

The complex houses a brewery, general foods-processing plant, milk-processing laboratory, and a teaching-and-research winery which will serve as a test bed for production processes that conserve water, energy, and other resources. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard.

Its environmentally friendly features include on-site solar power generation, a large-capacity system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water, and many other features. The facility is expected to be carbon zero in carbon emissions.

Read more about the facility and take an online tour at the facility’s website.

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:43 AM
 
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