One of the most impressive things I’ve seen at the expo has been Lely’s Astronaut A4, the Dutch company’s latest-generation robotic milking machine. I am not being sarcastic or snarky when I tell you that it is completely fascinating.
For starters, the A4 does not require a human being at any point in the milking process, leaving farmers free to cook dinner, work the books, or play Parcheesi. That’s because no one has to move a cow into the milking box. The animal goes there on its own because it knows there is feed there (the cows are fed traditionally, but the A4 contains higher-protein food, and cows are really good at knowing what they’re eating and, more important, what they want to eat). The front of the box has a trough where a cow can eat a measured amount of grain while it’s being milked.
The A4 scans a cow’s collar to determine which cow it is. The machine has a full history of that cow’s milk production and feeding habits, based on previous visits, and can tailor the amount of feed the cow receives and the rate of pulsation at the teat to produce the most milk.