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Cows, Meet Precision Agriculture: A&T Dairy Unveils New Automated Milking System

By Lydian Bernhardt

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s Aggie cows will mooo-ve into the age of “precision agriculture” as the University Dairy hosts an open house for its new, state-of-the-art Automated Milking System (AMS).

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the University Dairy, a part of N.C. A&T’s 492-acre farm, will open its doors to guests for a tour that includes the milking system; youngstock and reproduction management; mature animal nutrition and pasture management; and a question and answer session.

The Automated Milking System, a DeLaval 300, is the most advanced, university-based milking system in North Carolina. This fully voluntary system allows each cow to be milked as many times a day, and at any time of day, according to her individual needs and capacity, reducing her stress and discomfort.

The system is also the latest piece of digital technology to come to A&T and brings the University Dairy – the only dairy in the country at a historically Black college or university – online with an artificial intelligence-based system that benefits animals, dairy operators, researchers, and students alike, and boosts North Carolina’s $100 billion agriculture industry.

“It’s a great system for the cows,” said Lauren Mayo, Ph.D., research assistant professor In the Department of Animal Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES). “It gives the cows choices, and they’re very particular. This system allows them to do what they know they need to do without having to wait on a human to help them.”

The term “precision agriculture” refers to the application of modern information technologies to provide, process and analyze multisource data of high spatial and temporal resolution for decision making and operations in the management of agricultural systems, according to the National Research Council. Precision dairy technology including the AMS assists producers in adjusting to the needs of individual animals and conditions, saving unnecessary expense and resources, and "personalizing” animal care.

Research shows that automated, voluntary milking systems result in increased milking frequency and decreased milking times while lowering labor costs for dairy producers. Each cow is monitored and becomes uniquely “known” to the system, allowing dairy operators to become aware of problems – and solve them – more quickly.

“The AMS customizes for each cow’s maximum comfort,” said Corey Burgess, dairy unit supervisor on the A&T University Farm. “It sends the operator a steady stream of data – about the cow’s condition, what she ate, and the quality of her milk. The system can eventually tell if she’s pregnant or has any issues long before they’re visible to her caregivers, and it offers something to every STEM major at the university.”

Equally importantly, the system will aid the college’s teaching and research endeavors, allowing underrepresented students to gain advanced knowledge on precision technologies and secure careers in the dairy industry, the fastest growing livestock industry. It will allow students to investigate individual animal health, nutrition, and reproduction using Big Data gained from the system, Mayo said.

The introduction of the Automated Milking System is the next step in technological advances at A&T’s farm and in CAES, whose research portfolio nearly topped $40 million this year amid major new initiatives, including a planned Urban and Community Food Complex.

Source : ncat.edu

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