NZ Dairy Winter 2022

40 | nzdairy DAIRY INNOVATION » Massey University ‘Guided cow’ tech way of the future Richard Loader Could electronic cow collars enable the next big revolution in pastoral dairy farming, effectively doing away with fences, getting rid of paddocks, and ultimately saying goodbye to large single herds? Electronic cow collars are becoming increasingly used on dairy farms. All collars track an animal’s identity, some record health status, many track where a cow walks and some let cows know when and where to move. So, the basic technology to move cows around a farm already exists. Massey University’s Professor Richard Archer believes the technology is the way of the future and trusts the practical creativity of the Kiwi cocky to come up with the best management systems based on ‘guided cow’ technology. If cows could be guided by collars, Richard says the first rule is to ask them to do only what they want to do. There must always be a sense of routine and order – always fresh grass, water, rest and milking ahead of them. All positive reinforcement. Secondly, improving animal welfare over today’s crowded system is critical to success. “Without paddocks, we can break a herd of 500 into “herdlets” of 25 or whatever is comfortable for a boss-cow and tail-end Charlie. After milking, the herdlet is despatched from the shed in single file on grass all the way, not wasting time and hoof-health on laneways. “The herdlet grazes as it walks in a thin wedge out to the far boundary. Massey University Professor Richard Archer believes ‘guided cow’ technology is the way ahead for Kiwi farmers. Then it turns and grazes the next-door strip all the way back to the shed. You give the lead cow a narrow strip and let tail-end Charlie wander a bit.” The herdlet can be run over light pasture or forced to linger and chew down the deep bits. Richard says at last there will be a method of controlling grazing pressure on a square metre resolution to match the resolution of the imaging systems around now, telling you how much dry matter is where. “The ‘grazing trajectory’, out and back, is calculated and controlled by a computer. Tuning the trajectories will become a specialised job – perhaps done remotely by an expert living at the beach.” Meanwhile the farmer has time and opportunity to get close to the animals, observing gait and behaviour, as they are no longer hidden in a herd of hundreds. “There are only ever 25 cows at the shed at once. The shed can be robotic and work nearly twenty-four hours a day – finally we can match our pastoral grazing system to robotic milkers. The cows will walk the same distance as they do now but in long curves, getting further from the shed and grazing all the while, not in tight eddies. Double the distance means a farm can be four times the land area and served by a single shed. Things are starting to get really efficient!” In the grazing programme, the farmer can make sure the cows have water, then a rest, exactly when they are going to want it, anticipated