Cows and Crops: Next Generation of Robotics

By Rick Kersbergen, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension,

I was lucky enough to time my trip to the Netherlands with one of the largest farm shows in the world: “Eurotier” in Hanover, Germany.

Of course I thought I could visit the show for a day and gather in all the sights and sounds in an 8-hour block of time. Well, this show deserves several days and a lot more time than I had allocated on my travel itinerary. The show features 27 pavilion style buildings in a huge complex. Just to give you an idea of the size, I only made it through two of the pavilions during my one day at the show. Of course I concentrated my visit on the buildings that focused on dairy equipment and dairy technology. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit all the halls that featured cropping equipment and tractors.

I started the day by traveling from the beautiful town of Nijverdal/Hellendorn in Eastern Holland where I was staying with one of my many cousins. On the way to the train station in the early morning, we hit a detour and the traffic snarl that ensued. While we had allowed for what we thought was plenty of time to make the only train to Hanover that day, my plans were quickly becoming unraveled.

When we did finally get to the train station, my cousin quickly stopped at the entrance and yelled, “Quick get out! I think that is your train!” After jumping out and running to a train that was obviously about to leave, I boarded not knowing if it was the correct train or if I was headed to Berlin or Amsterdam. After I questioned several passengers as to the destination of the train (they all had different answers) I finally was reassured that I was on the correct train.

Eurotier cowsEurotier is HUGE! The 27 pavilions are packed with agricultural demonstrations, vendors, and displays along with animal exhibits and shows.

Mobile milking parlorI specifically went to the show to visit two different vendors who sell portable milking parlors that are being considered for use at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. After about an hour walking throughout the correct pavilion, I finally found both of them and spoke to their representatives.

After visiting the parlor companies, I was able to finally travel through the show and capture the flavor of the event, along with watching European farmers interact with companies and new technology. While many vendors at farm shows in the US offer candy or small snacks to attract visitors to their booth, European vendors use beer and bratwurst!

robotic feedingRobotics was definitely the main attraction that was drawing farmers in. Numerous companies were showing off robotic feeding and milking equipment.

Most exciting to many of the visitors were the new rotary robotic milking parlors. Here are some links to more information about them and a large parlor install in Finland.

These parlors are becoming more attractive as the European Union is lifting the milk quota system and many farmers are considering expansion. While “traditional” robotic milking is most efficient and effective for farms in the 60- 300 cow farm range, many of the larger farms have stayed away from this technology as large parallel or herringbone milking parlors are more efficient when milking large herds. The advent of robotic rotary parlors may change all that. Goat robotic rotary parlors were also very popular at the show!

hoof trimming standOther unique observations: cattle hoof trimming in Europe is done with upright cattle restraints and each hoof is lifted and trimmed individually. There were many elaborate stands and restraints on display! Most hoof trimming in the US is done on tilt tables, where the cows are actually lifted and tilted on their side while all four feet are off the ground at the same time and trimmed.

cow brushesCountry pride was also evident, as you could get cow back and neck scratchers in your country colors; I saw The Netherlands, Germany and Italy represented!

If you ever get the chance to go to Eurotier, give yourself a couple of days as one just doesn’t do justice! Oh yeah, I had a few bratwursts on the way back to the Netherlands that night.