Local Heart, Global Soul

March 14, 2017

Literally… This Boss Is A Real Cow!

Filed under: PHOTOGRAPHY,TEXEL,Texel: Ice-cream farm Labora,THE NETHERLANDS — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

At  “IJsboerderij Labora” in Texel, Family Kiwidutch and our friends got the opportunity to see something very new for the first time.

That ‘something” was introduced with a sign on the wall of the dairy farm which read: “Wilt u binnen een kijkje nemen? Ingang om de hoek, Hier kunt u onze melkrobot in werking zien” (Would you like to come inside for a little look? Entrance around the corner, here you can see our milk robot in action).

Milk robot?  I’m immediately curious and went in to take a look.

Inside I find myself facing the back side of a large machine called the “Lely Astronaut“. It is busy with water, brushes and milking suction cups and the cows are simply walking up to it one after another and allowing themselves to be cleaned and milked before returning to the main stall.

There is a small screen with a rolling commentary on our side of the machine.  It tells us all about how the milk robot works.

Translated and summarised: “Dutch dairy farmers wanted to find an easier and faster way to milk cows that was less stressful for cows, more efficient for the farmer.

Various machines already in use have a multitude of problems, for example that the cows have to move backwards or sideways and out of stalls, a movement not natural to them and produces stress. Stress is not only bad for the general health of the cow, it also means that she lets down less milk.

Dutch agricultural firm “Lely” therefore decided to redesign the entire milking procedure from scratch using new methods of technology and the  “Lely Astronaut” is the result.

Firstly, the cow moves only in a forward motion, gone are side-steps or reverse, she enters the milking stall at one end and leaves through the other.

She is scanned as she enters, the computer identifies the specific individual and tipping a small feed mix into the container by her head:  if milking has been unproductive the feed mix is adjusted with supplements or medication. She is weighed and her general condition accessed via a scanning system.

An arm with rotating brushes comes out under the cow, cleaning her teats and udder using a steam clean requiring no detergents. The udder is scanned and the robot finds the teats one at a time, mimicking how a calf would do it.

Sensors throughout the process can detect signs of mastitis, the arm under the cow also measures colour, temperature, conductivity, fat, lactose, levels of somatic cells, protein levels in the milk, as well as milking speed. If the machine detects a deviation in the milk value then the milk is separated automatically.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The cups are attached to the teats using a 3D camera and lasers, cow is milked, then mimicking nature at the end they detach one at time. Cow and the equipment are steam cleaned and disinfected again at the end and the cow exits via the front of the stall, whilst the back opens up for the next cow to enter.

Amazingly the farmer can control everything from an App. on a smart phone and so can spend more time with cows that need specialist attention.

Cows feel pressure and discomfort if they are not milked on time and having lived on a farm I know that cows are intelligent animals who happily walk to a milking shed when they feel this need, therefore this robot means that the cows decide according to this need and milk themselves!

It was certainly funny to see the orderly queue as the cows lined up waiting their turn at the machine. The farmer just fills the hoppers, collects the milk, does maintenance and can supervise on a remote dashboard and collect data for management of the herd.
It seems that “teaching” cows to become accustomed to an automated milking machine is a very achievable objective, and a big success. It’s great to see how modern technology can be put to good use, and that everyone in this system benefits: happy cows, better milk, happy farmers.

It’s been an eye opener to see a system where the farm animal can be part of the decision process and that everyone wins. I’d love to see technology extended to help other farm animals have a “say” in their own environment, be in the spaces where they live, to heat and light. Who knows how technology will evolve later in the twenty-first century? I hope that machines like this robot lead the way to better lives for livestock on our farms.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

August 18, 2012

Post-it Note: Sometimes I take a Cow of a Photograph…

Filed under: Funny,NEW ZEALAND,PHOTOGRAPHY,Travel — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

This area of the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island clearly has a sense of humour.  A little further in our travels I spy a rural letterbox that has me excitedly babbling in Himself’s ear that we need to turn around please so I can get a photograph.

Brilliant  husband that he is, he obliged with just just a raised eyebrow, wondering what on earth it was this time that has us screaming to a halt.

Since he has his eyes on the road an not on quirky bits parked to the sides of it, he usually hasn’t spotted the things I do,  so sometimes it’s a nice surprise for him to see what weird thing  we’ve turned back for (yet again).

Usually he and the kids appreciate the humour in my “finds” although I have been guilty of getting everyone to stop on occasion for stuff that looked interesting when we raced past but wasn’t when we turned around and took a closer look.

This little beauty is defiantly worth the U-turn and if this postbox doesn’t make the local Postie smile I don’t know what would.

Art, Creativity and Humour melded firmly with Practicability… Perfect!!!  This is the kind of thing the world needs a lot more of.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

July 18, 2012

Taking the Scenic Route South to the Caves…

Filed under: NEW ZEALAND,PHOTOGRAPHY,Travel — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Family Kiwidutch like taking the scenic route… so we are not going to take the same route back to Wellington as the road we came north on. Actually there is method in my madness: I want Himself and the kids to see a place that I really enjoyed coming to as a young teen… The Waitomo caves.

Annoyingly this is one place I’d love to go into myself so that I can see it all again, but I remember from the previous trip that the paths in the caves were damp and care needed to be taken walking them and know for sure that there’s a boat ride involved for part of the trip too, all of which are way  past  any possible boundaries of  “sensible” when on crutches.

Grrr  for now, I grit my teeth as we head south towards them, but on the other hand it also means  we might just *have* to visit here again one day so that I can see it again when I’m fit and fully functioning. Return trips to great places?  I’m all for that!

It’s nice to leave the larger roads behind and get back into the rural landscape, it’s still surprisingly busy here with trucks (always a shock after the relative serenity of side roads in the South Island) but I suppose that should be considered as normal since three-quarters of New Zealand’s population lives in the North Island.

We see quite a few signs of New Zealand support left over from the World Cup Rugby (excellent , but come on people “Be a Tidy Kiwi” and pick up that hubcap!  There’s a sign for something called “Peddler’s Rest” with a bike hanging off it… and having spoken of “lanes” for stock a few posts ago, I spot two more, not too surprising since this one of New Zealand’s biggest dairy farm regions.

Little Mr. delights in a small aircraft taking off from a little airstrip near the road we are on, and  I wonder at the arrangement of letterboxes that are parked on the road edge of the footpath, something  that’s usual for Rural Delivery and farms (ok albeit  there is no footpath next to a farm of course) and wonder why in a built up area like a town  they don’t deliver letters using a bicycle and the footpath. Does this seriously mean letters here are delivered by car?

If so, it either means Posties are getting soft, or are we as a society simply no longer sending enough mail to letterboxes any more to make it economical any other way? Let’s take a look out the window and see what we see…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

July 13, 2012

Daisy: “Hey…Bessie I’ll Race you down the Lane!”

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

One thing becomes clear as soon as you travel away from the small territory that you inhabited as a small child and young adult… things familiar to you and expressions you use naturally  from your experience in life can mean something amazingly different to other people in and from other places.

I’ll always remember the day I thought as a kid, upon hearing the words on TV:  “travel England’s beautiful country lanes” …’Ugh since when are lanes beautiful? and who on earth would want to travel them?”

In my little world the questions were perfectly logical, we had lanes on the farm I grew up on and our neighbours did too… but ours were sheep lanes, and the only other “lanes” I knew of at that age were also for stock use… “cow lanes”.

So what’s a sheep or cow lane? Well first be aware of the average size of a New Zealand farm, they are often huge compared to what looks first like tiny fragmented hobby farms in Europe.  Molesworth, New Zealand’s biggest station at 1800 square kilometers  (1118.46 square miles)  used to run 90 000 sheep but switched to running 10 000 cattle  for sustainability reasons after the rabbit population decimated a lot  of the land required it be be resown after a  rabbit extermination project.

(Forget any cute  images of fluffy bunnies here, this was a rabbit infestation of plague proportions and whole hillsides would look like they were moving, there were so many rabbits on them).

So even if  exclude the mega stations like Molesworth, and you have a “small”  farm it’s clear that New Zealand  paddocks  come super-sized  when compared to their European counterparts, in the South Island a paddock can easily be the size of an entire hillside. The climate is such that sheep and cattle don’t need to over-winter in inside accommodation,  in the Southern Alps it’s simple,  sheep graze at higher altitude in the summer months and are moved down the mountains to lower altitudes in winter.
After the winter, the muster brings them in, their heavy fleeces are shorn and they are taken back up the mountains. Of course docking and dipping are also regularly done  so there are times when sheep have to be bought to a central location like the sheep station’s shearing sheds and yards.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

I tried to find the average stock number for Dutch farms, I did my search in Dutch and didn’t find the information I wanted for the Netherlands but did find a site that said that the average number of stock on a farm in Belgium is 108.
The very average sized sheep station I started life on had about 35 000 sheep so shifting them all can be a slightly  bigger logistical  task.

Imagine the farm road (usually in a valley)  with wide “strip “of a paddock running parallel to it. This “strip” paddock is chopped off into a  series of very long rectangles  by gates and every now an again there are more gates on  the long edges that lead into the huge hillside paddocks above.  Like the road it follows, this strip paddock can be  kilometres long … but it’s got a very useful purpose.

When you are bringing  tens of  thousands of sheep down hill during the muster, you bring the sheep  from the top of the mountains to the bottom and then funnel them into the strip at the bottom and then close off the access to the hill. You just need to open as many gates in the “lane” as necessary to hold them all.  Now you have an awful lot of sheep in a manageable enclosed area (but not on the road) and by opening gates in front of them, and closing them behind, you can shift them all of them en mass  to the shearing sheds or yards for docking  with just the help of a few sheepdogs and minimum manpower.  Most people I know refer to this strip paddock as “the lane” or somethimes also as “the long paddock”.

Dairy herds are far smaller in numbers of course, but the milkers need to come to the milking sheds twice a day for milking and so smaller versions of the lanes are used for  exactly the same purpose. Milking cows just differ in that when they get heavy with milk they will usually just walk themselves to the sheds and then back again afterwards to the green pastures for their next feed.  On these photos I got out the car window,  the well trodden red dirt lane is a clear sign of a dairy farm… a far cry from England’s version of  “lanes” as I quickly discovered.

My city children and Dutch husband were completely ignorant of what my version of a lane was too..  Kiwi Daughter summed it up: “So it’s like a super highway for animals then? ” … well, Formula One maybe not, but … yes, I suppose it is!

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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