Sacred cows

It was a procedure that hadn’t changed much over 30 years. Each day, come rain or come shine, the farmer woke up bright and early to bring in his herd of cows into the parlour for their morning milking.

Once there, a team of hard-working folks would clean the animals’ teats before attaching machines to them to extract the precious milk. After the milking was over, the animals would be routed out of the parlour and back into the field.

But when the old farmer passed away, his son decided to make some sweeping changes to the family farm, deploying the latest technologies to radically modernise what he saw as an inefficient milking procedure and increase his profits into the bargain.

He proposed to eliminate the manual labour involved in the milking process by installing an automated system that would allow the cattle themselves to decide when they needed milking. Once they had checked themselves into the milking parlour, they would then be automatically milked and fed by robots, after which the system would check them out.

The wily farmer realised that such an automated system would work best if the cattle could be housed indoors for most of the lactation period, rather than wandering around his fields. And because of that, he also saw the potential to increase the output from the farm by building several large barns in which to house a larger number of them.

But before the farmer could go ahead with his plans, he had to gain the approval of members of the local council. And, I’m afraid, when he submitted his ideas to them, they were met with an extremely frosty reception.

Some of the councillors, for example, were concerned that the increase in the amount of milk transported from the farm would create an inordinate amount of additional traffic on the long and winding road that led to the farmer’s door. Others expressed worries that the amount of slurry that was created would pollute local areas of beauty.

While those concerns might well have had some validity, others did not – some councillors simply denounced the idea outright, commenting that while such factory-farming methods might be fine for ’Europeans’ who had less land on which to graze their cattle, this was not the way things were done in England.

Naturally enough, the farmer himself was more than a little miffed – and he informed the councillors that it was imperative to employ modern farming methods to keep his milk competitively priced with imports from other countries. He assured them that if his plans were rejected, they would all be drinking milk from the Netherlands before too long.

But rejected they were. Yet the councillors were quite content with the decision that they had made. That’s right – as they pour the milk from the Lowlands onto their cornflakes in the morning, they feel decidedly proud that they have done their bit to preserve the nature of the English countryside for posterity.

Sadly though, the farmer is now scratching his head for other ideas to keep the wolf from the door. I have heard that he now proposes to create some additional revenue by allowing several 1.5kW wind turbines to be erected on his land. Given the resistance of the council to change, however, I’m not sure how successful he’s going to be with that idea either.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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