We didn’t raise goats on our Midwest family farm when I was a kid (sorry, pun intended), but funny videos of them frolicking or even one singing a Taylor Swift song have me wishing we would have. Goats hit my radar when I read a story about the Euro Tier trade fair for animal production in Germany. One featured item was the high-tech rotary goat milking parlor. According to a YouTube video, one operator can milk hundreds of goats per hour.
I realize dairy farmers have the same type of options, and in some cases robotic sensors even make it so the “cows milk themselves.” No big complaints here, but it took me somewhere between 15 minutes and a half hour to milk our lone Guernsey before school—it all depended on how obstinate Bossy was and how often she kicked at the bucket or swiped at me with her tail. My bad habit of squirting hot milk at the cats or a younger brother also added to the duration.
High-tech Ag and Low-tech Memories
So as I read the rest of the trade fair article, I time traveled to my 1960s yesteryear to consider farm chores in light of new technology. A few long-distance observations:
** Automated feed and water systems have taken the fun out of tending animals. We dug for bales of hay in a stifling hot barn and toted buckets of corn through snowdrifts from a wagon to the bunk, all the while arguing with a brother about who was not holding up his end of the work. Dad used to turn on the hydrant to fill the water tank for cattle, and he would switch his feed company cap backwards to remind him it was on. This worked fine unless he didn’t see anyone for a spell, but at least by lunchtime Mom would let him know his "head was on backwards," and he could shut it off before a major overflow puddled up in the feedlot. Sensors and apps have streamlined such systems.
** According to the article, handheld scanners can now check pig weight and monitor health records. We could estimate a pig’s weight when we pulled one up onto its back hooves and pinned it between our legs so Doc Walker could inject medicine. We figured if he missed his aim a time or two, it couldn’t hurt for us kids to get vaccinated. Must have worked—not one of us got erysipelas back then.
** The Euro tech show featured such items as straw spreading machines, and I’ve seen videos of robots that “scoop” up manure. Actually, spreading straw by hand was relatively fun—the golden stalks sparkled in the light and almost glowed until they hit the floor. The pigs quickly did a makeover with slobber, mud, and poo. The only robotic manure haulers we had were zombie-like teenagers with pitchforks.
** The manure pitching crew included cousins who farmed jointly with us, and they had a rabbit venture that could have used an upgrade. The tech show featured rabbit cages with automated feeding, watering, and manure handling. My cousins’ yard featured wood and woven wire cages that had mounds of raisin-like droppings under them. When rabbits got loose, we had a roundup that resembled Looney Tunes more than Rawhide.
The Euro Tier hosts invited everyone for next year and also bragged about their low-tech table game. “Leave time for a game of pig foosball,” they said. By the time we were done with chores, we’d had enough of pigs, and since the two families had a total of 14 kids, we played regular football--as regular as you can get in a yard that included a slope for a sideline, a road ditch for one end zone, and a tree that worked well to screen off when running pass patterns. Our game was definitely low-tech: no pads, no video replays, and the tree could be a vicious tackler if you were looking the other way to catch a pass. Even viral video goats would have laughed at our antics.
by dan gogerty (top pic based on robotsystem.fr.jpg, middle pic on clarksonhistory.worldpress.com, and bottom from feedstuffs.com)