|!February 18, 2016
I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the Vermont Farm Show. The day hinted of January thaw but still, there was a breezy Champlain Valley bite to the air as I exited my car in an almost muddy parking lot. I headed toward the fairgrounds thinking “hard place to farm”, this Vermont with its fluky weather. Just outside the entrance to the Farm Show building stood a collection of super size modern-day equipment, manure spreaders, tillers, and loaders. I was especially attracted to a John Deere 7230 R tractor that stood half as tall as our barn back home. I chuckled at the thought of burying that behemoth up to its windshield in our fields…I know Morse Farm mud!
Entering the heated building, I knew two things: that there’d be lots of familiar faces at the Farm Show, and that the display booths would feature the most modern, make-life-easier equipment. Ironically, the first person I ran into was my chiropractor, Dr. Jim Garand. Dr. Garand and I exchanged pleasantries and wished each other a good day. My thoughts immediately went to the last time I was in his office…”Work smarter Burr” he said, reminding me that there are always alternate ways to approach every job: “Before you just ‘bull into’ it, think it out…there may be an easier way.” he said.
His words “easier way” seemed to echo from every booth that I passed…instant-move plastic, electric fencing, motorized Christmas tree shears, infrared oil heaters, logging trailers with grappling arms…”what’s next?” I thought, a Genie in a bottle for sale to farmers! The very next booth reached out and grabbed me…I had my Genie…there before my eyes, a robot “milked” two life-size plastic cows! The robot arm moved purposefully from its position between the two cows. It served one cow at a time, grasping each of the four teat cups individually, finding the teat, and releasing the cup to allow vacuum to do its job. After all four were attached, it then rotated to the “partner” cow and repeated the process.
To set the record straight, this old farmer has never been a clinger to old ways just for tradition’s sake…if the farm economy disallows our job to be done the old way, we need to change to a new way. But memories from my old dairying days raise the question, how could a robot possibly milk a cow? I remember a distinct melding of two personalities, the cow’s and the man’s. Cows are living creatures, just like people. Some have huge, kind eyes that shower you with love while you milk them and others’ll kick your head in, but they all have a “personality”. We used to massage their bags (udders for non-farmers) to stimulate them to give milk. We used to talk to them for God’s sake!
On one hand I say again, how could a robot possibly milk a cow? On the other hand, I know they can. There are a handful of robot milkers presently employed here in Vermont and more soon to come. Does that mean we have different cows these days? I think not, the same cows have have simply adapted to a different economy just like man has. Cows used to have names. Now they have numbers and life goes on. Do old guys like me like it? No, but I ain’t gointa change it. As Gwyneth Paltrow said “if you don’t create change, change will create you”. I suspect Dr. Jim Garand would agree with that!