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Big Dairy Enters the Era of Big Data

New gadgets help farmers monitor cows and analyze their milk
Elizabeth Hill shows off her prize-winning heifer at the World Dairy Expo on Oct. 2
Elizabeth Hill shows off her prize-winning heifer at the World Dairy Expo on Oct. 2Photograph by Paul Octavious for Bloomberg Businessweek

After Steve and Lori Dockendorf’s two oldest children left their dairy farm to go to college, the husband-and-wife owners of a 100-cow farm in Watkins, Minn., had to figure out how to replace the labor they’d lost. The traditional solution would have been to hire a couple of extra hands. Instead, the Dockendorfs went with robots: robots to help feed the cows, robots to help clean the barn, even robots that can milk the cows. The farmers used to spend three hours milking, twice a day. “Now,” says Lori, “we wake up in the morning, and the robots have already milked all the cows.”

This machine can milk cows and clean up afterward
Photograph by Paul Octavious for Bloomberg Businessweek