Milkin’ It with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 07, 2010 @ 11:22 AM

Robotic Milking Systems Use RFID and Sensors to Increase Production and Ensure Quality

CowHumans have consumed animal milk as part of our diet since around 5,000 BC and will for millennia to follow.  We’ve processed milk to make dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese.  To improve the production of milk and milk-based products, dairy farms have adopted many new technologies over the years.  Large scale dairy farming has seen innovation come by way of vacuum bucket milking, milking pipelines, milking parlors, and, yes, fully automated robotic milking. 

Robotic milking systems automate the tracking of milk production, in part, by using RFID to track and identify cattle as they enter milking stalls.  If a cow hasn’t been recently milked, the system dispenses feed pellets and initiates the milking process, while recently milked cows are allowed to move on through an open gate.  The system’s embedded sensors are used to detect changes in the milk’s temperature and color which are signs of possible illness.

According to a U.S. News and World Report story, Minnesota dairy farmers using these types of systems have seen an increase in herd productivity, resulting in overall improvements in daily farming operations.

To help identify sources of possible contamination, RFID is also used to track individual milk samples through mandated testing processes followed by dairy farming industries around the world.  For example, SAITL Dairy Laboratory in New Zealand has implemented an RFID-based identification and tracking system to test up to 30,000 vials of milk from dairy farms every day.

As reported by RFID Journal, SAITL’s solution uses RFID to ID batches and samples of milk by using a Texas Instruments 13.56 MHz passive RFID tag attached to the bottom of each vial.  SAITL lab workers process the milk-filled vials past RFID readers which send the tag data to a database to identify the specific tests that each sample must undergo.  According to SAITL, RFID has increased the speed and accuracy of their lab processing and minimized manual handling and resulting errors – helping to ensure the quality of milk produced by 11,000 New Zealand dairy farms.

So the next time you sit down for a snack of cookies and milk or pour milk into your breakfast cereal or cup of coffee, its possible that RFID helped deliver that carton of milk – safely and securely.

Let us know about other areas of the agriculture and farming that you feel can benefit from the use RFID.

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Agriculture

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