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May 3, 2010 2:35 PM   Subscribe

For one year, twelve cows on a dairy farm Twitter about their lactation cycle and robotic milking activities.

"The cows are now able to literally milk themselves at all times, day and night, and the farmer is now primarily an information manager. As an intervention into this process, O'Gorman and Broglio sought to develop a mobile application in the Critical Media Lab that would allow the farmer to regain intimacy with his cows, and allow anyone at all to learn more about where their milk comes from. The primary goal of the project is to raise questions about how technology mediates the relationship between animals and humans."
posted by gman (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Twitter has jumped the shark.
posted by crunchland at 2:36 PM on May 3, 2010


Over the moon?
posted by Babblesort at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of sniftag (social network for dogs).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:39 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


sought to develop a mobile application in the Critical Media Lab that would allow the farmer to regain intimacy with his cows

There are laws against this in Wisconsin, I think.

On the other hand, this is no sillier than most of what comes off Twitter, so I say "Go cows!"
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:48 PM on May 3, 2010


It seemed appealing, until I started thinking about it. First:

Once inside, a robotic arm washes her teats, latches on, and extracts the milk while the cow eats high-grade feed to make her happy.

So, the cow isn't deciding when to be milked, but when to be rewarded with whatever "high grade feed"is for putting up with being milked.

Second, I'm very interested in knowing that the cow (or goat) that produced the milk I drink lives near me, under humane conditions, and gets to eat lots of green grass from a meadow that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides. But why would any consumer care how often that cow is milked?
posted by bearwife at 2:51 PM on May 3, 2010


My girlfriend follows the cows. She unfollowed somebody a year ago, and he complained when she started following the cows. Here's her response, quoted by Twitter design researcher Trammell.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Not to say that this milking machine is humane, but bearwife, have you ever heard a dairy cow past her milking time? In my experience, the ladies let you know it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:58 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a cow approaches the robotic milking pen, the computer reads the tag and determines whether or not the cow is scheduled to be milked, based on her stage of lactation and average daily output. If the cow is ready for milking, she is allowed into the pen. Once inside, a robotic arm washes her teats, latches on, and extracts the milk while the cow eats high-grade feed to make her happy. The milk output and feed input is recorded by the main computer and stored in a database, along with the total milking time, time/teat, and total time in pen.

I can't wait until Aardman turns this into a movie. Especially the intimate farmer-on-cow scenes.


Despite my snark, this is a cool story, and a nice post.
posted by zarq at 2:59 PM on May 3, 2010


Yay the place where I went to school and delicious dairy products.
posted by GuyZero at 3:00 PM on May 3, 2010


Bearwife...ever been around a cow who wants to be milked now?? They can be pretty direct. The treats would just help pass the time.
posted by cookie-k at 3:01 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


But why would any consumer care how often that cow is milked?

If you had 12kg of milk in your breasts you'd sure as heck care.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Once inside, a robotic arm washes her teats, latches on, and extracts the milk while the cow eats high-grade feed to make her happy.

Now that we're in finals week, my paper-grading method is pretty much identical, only with Good-n-Plentys and Slim Jims instead of high-grade feed.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:03 PM on May 3, 2010


Yes, I get that cows, or any other mammary female, cares how often the milk is removed. I am a bear wife, remember? But honestly, once we make the reasonable assumption that dairies are pretty motivated not to leave their cows unmilked, what difference does it make to know exactly how often the cow is milked?
posted by bearwife at 3:08 PM on May 3, 2010


I think the page indicates that part of the project is to reconnect the farmer with the cows now that he no longer has to milk them on a set schedule which is a pretty demanding job.

Also, this is just kind of research sillyness to some extent and I don't think there's an expresses concrete purpose to what they're doing. It's research - they're doing it to see what happens.
posted by GuyZero at 3:10 PM on May 3, 2010


@Chick_fil_A Suk meh teet Eat Mor chikn
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:11 PM on May 3, 2010


This is udderly absurd.
posted by HuronBob at 3:11 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, I get that cows, or any other mammary female, cares how often the milk is removed. I am a bear wife, remember?

There's a (very bad) joke about milking bears in there somewhere that ends with "...and then he pulled back a stump."

But honestly, once we make the reasonable assumption that dairies are pretty motivated not to leave their cows unmilked, what difference does it make to know exactly how often the cow is milked?

Well, it's interesting for one thing. And we get to see that cows are probably more comfortable when they aren't glued to a circadian milking rhythm. ;)
posted by zarq at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2010


"...would allow the farmer to regain intimacy with his cows..."

Did they really say that, really????
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2010


Did they really say that, really????

Now, now. It's a touching story of love, loss and passion re-ignited starring James Cromwell.
posted by zarq at 3:16 PM on May 3, 2010


"Can't milk the cows today, ma. Twitter's down."
posted by schwong at 3:23 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


This Twitter feed would be much better if it were called Cud My Cow Chews.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:30 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


what difference does it make to know exactly how often the cow is milked?

I'm a huge nerd, but I think it would be interesting to see how often the cow wants to be milked, absent the stimulus of a hungry calf or a farmer coming around on a tight schedule. Maybe twitter's not the best medium for this, but it could potentially lead to better milking practices for cows in general (if, for example, cows prefer to be milked 12 times a day, or at unexpected hours)
posted by fermezporte at 3:34 PM on May 3, 2010


OK, let's assume we want to know how often the cow wants to be milked. Then the "high grade feed" shouldn't be in the picture, right? All animals tend to respond to positive reinforcement, and getting fed something tasty is reinforcing for any mammal, or for that matter to any animal. E.g. this trained fish,
(click on "fainting fish" video)

So, if all you inquiring minds really want to know about the cow's milking preferences, versus high grain feed receiving preferences, this is still a silly setup.
posted by bearwife at 3:47 PM on May 3, 2010


My brother-in-law is just setting up a milking operation, and this is exactly the model he's using: a small milking robot station that the cows can use whenever they want to. Apparently the cows prefer it, they get milked when they want to, and it's much less work for the farmer. Lower stress for the cows and less work? How is that not a win-win?
posted by bonehead at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2010


OK, let's assume we want to know how often the cow wants to be milked. Then the "high grade feed" shouldn't be in the picture, right?.

Interesting point. Is the milking pen the only place they have access to that feed? If not, then it wouldn't necessarily skew the results.
posted by zarq at 3:54 PM on May 3, 2010


The site says the RFID system regulates how often the cow gets milked so the feed is there (I guess) to attract the cows to the milker in the first place as cows don't like not being milked but they're not that bright to understand why they're unhappy and it probably gives them something to do while being milked so they don't try to leave halfway through.

Based on a cursory knowledge of dairy farms it seems like a pretty reasonable system. Cows get fed when they're milked manually too.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of one of my daughter's favorite books - Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type . Only maybe not as funny. These cows needs some ducks to bust them out.
posted by PuppyCat at 3:59 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some of the tweets are pretty good

"I just squirted 15.4 kgs of milk out of my teats in 7:24 seconds. What did you do today?"

"Please don't get bored of Contrast Amanda (44). I just pumped out 18.2 kgs for you and your human friends."

Most consumers are pretty far removed from the industrialised nature of most of our food production these days. This is one way of starting to help people visualise it. There are over 9 million dairy cows like Contast Amanda in the USA - imagine how busy Twitter would be if they were all tweeting each time they were milked.
posted by memebake at 4:18 PM on May 3, 2010


And, oddly enough, this is run out of the U of Waterloo department of... English. Seriously.
posted by GuyZero at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2010


Bearwife: Besides being uncomfortable for the cows to not be milked often enough or soon enough, from what I understand things like under-milking can lead to health problems like infections or mastitis, which are also caused by poor milking practices, teat-dipping and other pathways of bacterial infection.

Manual milking machines are prone to human error, whereas the robot milking machines are very well developed these days and have less human error involved in both placement of milking cups and the cleaning of the equipment.

I saw a documentary recently that showed how sophisticated these machines are and how reliably and accurately they place milking cups on each teat using computerized vision technology, and it seemed like it was counter-intuitively more humane, less traumatic, safer and nicer to the cows and generally involved less bellowing and fighting, and seemed safer for everyone involved from the cow to the farmer to the consumer. (Safer for the consumer because every single milking is tested right there in the machine before it's pumped to the holding tank, eliminating cross-contamination.)

Apparently once the cows figure out they can be milked whenever they're ready works great and there's usually a small line at the milking machine. It's not the food that brings them there, it's the fact that they know they can be milked and get rid of the pain/pressure in their udders as they see fit, rather then waiting for the artificial schedule set by the farmer.

Granted, it's still factory farming. These aren't cows that are happily grazing on grass in an open field. They're still trapped in building in crowded conditions eating an unnatural diet. They're still artificially kept in a state of milk production, etc.
posted by loquacious at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Assuming that they have other places to feed besides the milking station the availability of food shouldn't make much of a difference.
I've hiked many a times in the Alps among freely grazing cows. They eat. All the time and everywhere. I presume they stop when they're sleeping or when they're mooing. They definitely don't stop for anything else. Not even for pooping. And when they're not picking up the next mouthful they're regurgitating and re-chewing what they ate earlier.

Knowing your cows' milking rhythms could enable you to detect if something is possibly wrong with one or more of them if the patterns suddenly change for no apparent reason.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:18 PM on May 3, 2010


They eat. All the time and everywhere. I presume they stop when they're sleeping or when they're mooing. They definitely don't stop for anything else. Not even for pooping. And when they're not picking up the next mouthful they're regurgitating and re-chewing what they ate earlier.

This is why I have no problem eating cows. They would surely eat us we would just lie still and be made of grass.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once inside, a robotic arm washes her teats, latches on, and extracts the milk while the cow eats high-grade feed to make her happy.

These cows...are they later raped by other robots with tentacles?
posted by mosk at 6:03 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is cheesy.
posted by domnit at 6:19 PM on May 3, 2010


milking the puns.
posted by gman at 6:22 PM on May 3, 2010


How many people here have had to milk a cow by hand on a regular basis?

Loquacious is right on with the benefits of automated milking. Believe me, the robots are a much better choice, when the health of the cow and its milk are a priority.

I grew up on a small horse farm, surrounded by small dairy farms, and I have know a lot of farmers who really care about their cows, and I've known a couple of jackass dairy farmers that don't give a damn about their cows except for their production amounts, and you could actually taste the difference.

Even though I live in the big 'ol city these days, I grew up a grow-you-own-meat-eating, animal-raising, hunt-for-food-not-for-trophies country folk guy. It pisses me off when I see animals like pigs, chickens, and cows raised in those industrial meat factories (not worthy to be called farms) where those animals are kept in boxes and never see a blade of grass or a open field in their whole lives. I'm glad this farm does not seem to be one of them.

Robotic milking is really a great idea. This is something to support if you are looking out for the animals that supply your food (milk drinking crowd implied with the 'your').
posted by chambers at 6:52 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been following Suzanne McMinn's blog and her tales of milking her own cow by hand, daily. It sounds like she's getting about a gallon and a half in about 45 minutes getting.

After reading that it's shocking to hear how fast these twittering cows give up their milk. 8.4 kg of milk in 7:16 seconds? Madness!
posted by Alison at 7:35 PM on May 3, 2010


I'm gonna have to do the same thing for my five fresh onacup.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:20 PM on May 3, 2010


They're for my cowfish.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:22 PM on May 3, 2010


"...would allow the farmer to regain intimacy with his cows..."

Did they really say that, really????


They cud've just said he was feeling horny.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:40 PM on May 3, 2010


All the Twitter feeds are stale... wouldn't this have been a better post about a year ago?
posted by crapmatic at 8:44 PM on May 3, 2010


Flag it & moove on.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:07 PM on May 3, 2010


wouldn't this have been a better post about a year ago?

Prior to the project which began in December?
posted by gman at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2010


Yeah, crapmatic's asking whey too much. Even a quick skim would've re-vealed that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:38 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this art?
posted by jeremy b at 12:23 AM on May 4, 2010


This seems a good place to mention this start up that inserts sensors into cow stomachs to measure the PH values and the temperature. The values are then transmitted via radio waves.
The reason is that after calving the cows are given different feed and their bellies are in danger of swelling.
The instruments are about 15 centimeters long and the cows swallow it. Apparently, they also have experimental (live, real) cows that have little doors cut into their bellies for easier access. The cow reportedly hardly notices when you open it and stick the sensor in.

The things done to livestock before the meat hits the plate are terrifying.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:27 AM on May 4, 2010


The cows are now able to literally milk themselves at all times, day and night, and the farmer is now primarily an information manager.

This is awesome. I've been thinking for a while how awesome robot farms would be. With a food supply based on neither vast amounts of money or human exploitation, we'd be a lot freer to experiment with economic systems.
posted by DU at 4:21 AM on May 4, 2010


First cows are tweeting, now they are generating electricity. What next?
posted by Fence at 10:23 AM on May 4, 2010


methane-powered generators with gas produced by decaying manure have been around for years. Treadmills seem... excessive.
posted by GuyZero at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2010


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