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Robot Milkmaids Give Farmers a Helping Hand

May 11, 1995

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Shorthanded dairy farmers are getting some help from robot milkmaids. There’s just one catch: the cows have to cooperate.

The Prolion automation company says its system, which lets cows decide when to be milked, would allow 24-hour milking, cutting labor costs and raising production by 15 percent.

Coaxed by a sweetened feed, cows are trained to approach a milking pen when their udders are full. A computer chip in their collars keeps track of whether it is indeed milking time.

If it is, a gate opens, the cow enters and a robot approaches using ultrasound to locate the teats, wash them and attach vacuum milking hoses. Automatic milking takes about 10 minutes.

Most cows catch learn fairly quickly, said Prolion spokesman Wim Nugteren, but there are others who ``just don’t get it.″

There are 5 million cows in the Netherlands, one for every three people.

The price of the robot milker ranges from $150,326 for one stall to $254,901 for three. Prolion says it would be cost-effective for farms with 60 to 100 cows.

The system is being tested for sale in the United States, Nugteren said.

Its reception has been mixed. Some farmers are put off by the machine’s technical problems, said Atze Schaap of the Dutch Agriculture Board. But he said it’s a good solution for family-run farms with a labor shortage.

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