The Oregon Trail: Rogue Creamery
Rogue Creamery has driven innovation in the American cheese world since it's inception in the 1930's. From creating a cheese plant in Southern Oregon during the Great Depression to creating the first blue cheese to be made west of the Missouri river, the accomplishments of this artisan cheese plant are many. They continue to create new cheeses to delight consumers and cheese aficionados but they also are pushing the industry forward in other new and exciting ways. Currently, it's their employment of a Robotic Milking System.
There are only around 500 Robotic Milking Systems (RMS) being used in the US at this time so don't worry if you feel like you have no idea what I'm talking about! If you have spent any amount of time near a dairy, you understand the time commitment it takes to milk cows twice a day, every day. It starts at the crack of dawn and can continue well after dark. With conservative estimates, a dairy farmer spends at least 28 hours a week just on milking. This number varies wildly due to the size of the farm. Needless to say, that's a lot of time that could be spent on other parts of the business. Now, I'm sure that there are a few of you that are bristling at the idea of automation but there are lots of reasons why this system is beneficial. I'm not one that believes in automation just for the sake of automation. I have a resounding belief in the human touch and how it can transform something into an experience or into art. Sometimes though, one of the best things we can do is step back and do what's best.
So, how does this thing work? I will be referencing Rogue's set up because that's what I've seen but I don't doubt that each farm has it's own set up dependant on it's own needs. The RMS is also referred to as a Voluntary Milking System because that's exactly how it works. The cows get to decide when they are ready to be milked. Rogue's system employs two holding pens that the cows enter. They receive a small treat while their teats are prepped for milking. They are cleaned, pre-milked, dried, and each teat is stimulated with water before a suction cup device using lasers attaches itself for milking. Each's cow's information is pulled up with each milking and alerts are made for a myriad of reasons like not milking enough, trying to milk too often (greedy cows!), or possible infections. The farmers are able to still stay fully connected to the cows because they have all of their information readily available, oftentimes directly on their phones. The cows are less stressed by being able to be milked at their leisure and it can help with herds that consist of a variety of ages. Yearling heifers will produce milk more often whereas some of the older heifers may wait longer before milking. The basis of the system is to give the animals a chance to do what they are naturally inclined to do.
The system is still wildly expensive for most small farms but as time and technology move on, the price will (hopefully) shift to become more affordable for all. It's important to be looking at technology like this for the future of dairy farming because if you've been paying attention, you'll know that our small dairy farmers are hurting. They don't make enough money on the fluid market and they often have to have a job outside the farm just to continue being a farmer. That means there is less time to be able to dedicate to things like milking. Systems like this can help alleviate the amount of work on a small farmer's plate.
Technology is unavoidable, at this point, so we should be creating systems that benefit the animals and the workers while still looking historically at systems that have worked forever. This was an amazing system to watch in progress and I can't wait to see how the future unfolds with this sort of technology. It could prove to be super beneficial for all involved.
Here, I'll end this with some cute baby pictures. It'll warm your heart.