For dairy farmers, sustainability means making decisions today by considering how those choices will serve the animals, the environment, and their family and community well into the future. California dairy farmers have been advancing their use of technology for more than 200 years. Despite current economic challenges, they continue to invest in technology, as they plan to sustain their operations for generations to come.
In the past eight months, the Postma family of Stanislaus County and the Jones family of Merced County have put robots to work on their farms. The fully-robotic milking systems are ready to work 24-7, as soon as the cows step in. The robots recognize each cow, and provide them with a little grain (a tasty snack) before beginning the milking process, which includes pre- and post-milking udder care.
The key difference between these new systems and other advanced milking parlors found throughout the state is that the cows choose when and how often they would like to be milked. The Jones and Postma dairies had been milking two times per day prior to the transition. Now, cows choose to visit the robots two to four times per day. Systems like these are already more prevalent in other dairy regions throughout the United States and Europe, where generally smaller herd sizes mean less robots and a lower start-up cost. But, the Postmas and the Joneses decided to explore idea of bringing robots to the West Coast.
“My dad thought we were crazy,” says Jonathon Postma. “It was just incomprehensible, until we actually saw it. Then he was like, ‘Holy cow. This is what we need to do.’”
“The cow makes all the decisions,” says David Jones. “I can’t think of a better way to do it.”
“We do this because we like cows. We enjoy taking care of happy and healthy cows,” says David.
“Looking 15 years down the road, I want my kids to want to keep the dairy going,” he says. “I enjoy being with the cows. I want to have the dairy set up so my kids can do that.”