Robot cow-herder a hit with farmers.

Robots could be used in the future to round up cows on dairy farms, according to researchers.

A four-wheeled device, known as Rover, has been tested by a team at Sydney University. It was used to move a herd of cows from a field to a dairy.

Researchers were amazed at how easily cows accepted the presence of the robot.

They were not fazed by it and the herding process was calm and effective, they said.

Because the robot moved in a steady manner it allowed cows to move at their own speed which was important in reducing lameness among cattle, Dr Kendra Kerrisk, dairy researcher and associate professor, told the BBC.

Robots are already used in the milking process but the team wanted to see if they could be used in other areas of dairy farming.

The robot was adapted from one that was already being used to monitor fruit and trees on farms. A team at Sydney University’s Centre for Field Robotics modified the robot so that it could be put in a field with cows in order for the researchers to gather data on robot-bovine interaction.

The prototype needs to be operated by a human but it’s hoped that in the future a version can be developed that will be fully automated.

Extremely excited

As well as herding cows a new version could also collect information useful for farmers.

According to the research team, the robot could be used at night to move slowly through the maternity paddock monitoring cows that are due to calve. It could also be used to gather data on soil and detect problems with electric fences.

Cows and milk churns
Using robots to get cows to the dairy will be better for their well-being say researchers

“The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming,” said Dr Kerrisk.

“When we have discussed this concept with farmers they have been extremely excited and we have had a flurry of calls and emails asking how they can get hold of one,” she added.

The robot could also cut down the number of accidents involving humans on farms. Most dairy farmers in Australia use quad bikes to round up their cattle and they are one of the leading causes of injury. The team hopes that by using the robot to do the job instead, accident rates could fall.

Since demonstrating the robot at a dairy symposium in Australia earlier in the year the team has secured funding to develop Rover the robot, mark II.

10 Things You Should Know About Raw Milk.

In recent years, there’s been a crackdown on small dairies producing raw milk, designed as an obstacle to the growing legions of consumers demanding healthier and more flavorful milk. Raw milk has been deemed “unfit” for human consumption by the FDA and other government sting operations, and the public propagandized into fearing it. According to some fear-mongers, for example, raw milk causes rabies.

David Gumpert, author of popular blog The Complete Patient and forthcoming book Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (Chelsea Green, Oct 2009), asks an important question: How much of the fear-mongering from the pro-pasteurization people is real, and how much is propaganda from Big Agribusiness? Gumpert says the anti-raw-milk campaign is just another governmental technique to sanitize the food supply—even in the face of ever-increasing rates of chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, and allergies.

Here are 10 things you should know about raw milk that the government won’t tell you:

1. Raw milk is healthier: Pasteurized milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but back in the day, these diseases were rare. In fact, clean raw milk from grass-fed cows is chock full of healthy amino acids and beneficial enzymes, and was used as a cure.

2. Raw milk does not make you sick: That is, if it is properly collected from cows fed good, clean grass. Grass-fed milk has natural antibiotic properties that help protect it from pathogenic bacteria. But it’s worth noting, if you’ve been using pasteurized dairy products, you might want to eat small amounts of yogurt or kefir for a week or so, for a dose of probiotics, just to be safe. I did, and it helped.

3. Not all raw milk is the same: The cow’s diet, how and where it’s raised, and how the milk is collected are all factors in the safety and quality of raw milk. Cows pastured on organic green grass produce milk with good health benefits. It’s good to know where your milk is coming from.

4. Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat TB, infant diarrhea, undulant fever and other diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods. But modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks, and inspection are enough of a precaution, and pasteurization has become irrelevant.

5. Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

6. Calves fed pasteurized milk don’t do very well, and many die before maturity. Scary, considering the milk originally came from their mom.

7. Raw milk sours naturally but pasteurized milk turns putrid; processors must remove slime and pus from pasteurized milk by a process called centrifugal clarification. Gross.

8. Inspection of dairy herds for disease is not required for pasteurized milk. This means, pasteurization is used as a nifty way to wash away all forms of bad bacteria that are allowed to flourish freely before the process. Imagine that for a second.

9. Raw milk has more butterfat, which is rich in fatty acids that protect against disease and stimulate the immune system. Skim milk doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you, in other words.

10. Pasteurization laws favor large, industrialized dairy operations and push out small farmers. When farmers have the right to sell raw milk directly to their consumers, they can make a decent living even with a small number of cows. Support small farmers!

New data on badger TB spread.

Herd-to-herd transmission of bovine TB in cattle accounts for 94% of cases, according to new data.

Further analysis of scientific evidence from the Krebs badger culling trial found around 6% of infected cattle catch TB directly from badgers.


The figure rises to about 50%, when cattle infected by badgers pass it on to other herds, say Imperial College London scientists.

The government is to decide shortly whether to extend pilot culls.

A six-week trial of badger culling in Somerset has now ended, but the firm behind it has asked for more time after its marksmen fell short of killing the target of 70% of the badger population.

A similar trial in Gloucestershire is still ongoing. An application has been made to extend the trial, but it is not known how many badgers have been shot.

The role of badgers in spreading bovine TB has been hotly debated as part of discussions about whether badgers in England should be culled to control the spread of the disease.

No ‘single way forward’

The scientific evidence for and against badger culling comes from the £50m Randomised Badger Culling (Krebs) trial.

The study, which ran from 1998 to 2005, found evidence that culling could reduce TB in herds inside culled areas, while increasing TB in areas nearby.

Mathematical modelling revealed that in high TB areas badgers accounted for roughly 50% of cases in cattle.

“Start Quote

These findings confirm that badgers do play a large role in the spread of bovine TB. These figures should inform the debate, even if they don’t point to a single way forward”

Professor Christl Donnelly Imperial College London

A new more detailed analysis published in the journal PLOS Currents Outbreaks found that of this 50%, 6% was because of primary transmission from badgers to cattle, with the remainder coming from cattle that had been infected by badgers passing the disease on to other herds.

Research leader Prof Christl Donnelly told the BBC: “The results show that both badgers and cattle are important in this transmission system – that we’re getting introductions from badgers and they’re being amplified spreading from herd to herd.

“The 6% figure tells you about introductions into herds and that tells you that 6% of the introductions into herds come from badgers; 94% of them come from other cattle herds.”

She said the estimates came from early in the Krebs trial and further control measures had been introduced since then to reduce cattle to cattle transmission.

Prof Donnelly added: “These findings confirm that badgers do play a large role in the spread of bovine TB. These figures should inform the debate, even if they don’t point to a single way forward.”

Ministers and the NFU say badger culling is needed to control TB in cattle.

Around 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers. However, animal rights groups say scientific evidence does not support the policy of shooting badgers in an attempt to control the disease.

If You Know How a Cow Feels, Will You Eat Less Meat?

Inside a lab on the Stanford University campus, students experience what it might feel like to be a cow.


Inside a lab on the Stanford University campus here, students experienced what it might feel like to be a cow.

They donned a virtual reality helmet and walked on hands and feet while in a virtual mirror they saw themselves as bovine. As the animal was jabbed with an electrical prod, a lab worker poked a volunteer’s side with a sticklike device. The ground shook to simulate the prod’s vibrations. The cow at the end was led toward a slaughterhouse.

Participants then recorded what they ate for the next week. The study sought to uncover whether temporarily “becoming” a cow prompted reduced meat consumption.

The motivation wasn’t to make people vegetarians, said Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. But the project hoped to uncover whether virtual reality could alter behaviors that tax the environment and contribute to climate change.

“If somebody becomes an animal, do they gain empathy for that animal and think about its plight?” Bailenson asked. “In this case, empathy toward the animal also coincides with an environmental benefit, which is that [not eating] animals consumes less energy.”

It’s one of several environment-related experiments Bailenson is conducting in the lab, all tailored toward revealing whether there are new ways to encourage environmental preservation. Volunteers also have virtually chopped down a tree, a study aimed at examining attitudes toward paper use. Others took a virtual reality shower while eating lumps of coal — literally consuming it — to gain insight into how much was needed to heat the water.

Virtual reality, along with computer games and other kinds of technology, is being used to approach environmental issues from new angles. The National Science Foundation awarded a $748,000 grant to Stanford and Harvard University to run four experiments. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, British Columbia, that city, smaller townships and professors from the University of British Columbia are running sustainability-related experiments that use visualization techniques.

The work is important because many people have difficulty grasping climate change facts, said Tim Herron, who manages the Decision Theatre lab at the University of British Columbia.

“It’s just a much more compelling way of getting people to understand the effects of their behavior now on the future,” Herron said. “It’s about visualizing the data for people. Once people can see it, it’s amazing how much it changes things. People begin to really understand the necessity to make some changes now to prevent these sort of things.”

Studies have long-term impact
Virtual reality experiences can alter behavior, Bailenson said. The tree experiment in particular, he said, has stuck with those who went through the experience.

The research came out of a news article Bailenson read that said if people did not use recycled toilet paper, over the course of their lives they would each use up two virgin trees.

In the subsequent experiment Bailenson ran, students stood in the virtual reality version of a forest where they heard wind rustling and birds chirping as they flew past. The participants held a device meant to represent a chain saw, and felt resistance as they passed it back and forth through a tall tree.

The wood cracked, then crashed to the ground with a thunderous boom. The forest fell silent, birds no longer singing.

Before the student left the lab, a woman there knocked over a glass of water on a desk and asked the participant to help her clean it up. The people who had gone through virtual reality used 20 percent less paper than those who had watched a video of a tree being cut down, Bailenson said.

Bailenson said he gets emails months after that experiment from people telling him they can’t walk down the toilet paper aisle of a store without thinking about the falling tree.

The results of the cow experiment aren’t yet finalized, so Bailenson doesn’t know whether people ate less meat in the days afterward. But the comments from the study participants show they did empathize with the cows, he said. Stanford does not release names of the volunteers but provided some of their answers to questions presented after the experiment.

“Once I got used to it I began to feel like I was the cow,” one person wrote. “I truly felt like I was going to the slaughter house towards the end and I felt sad that I (as a cow) was going to die. That last prod felt really sad.”

Funding obstacles for climate research
Bailenson hopes to move more into the climate change arena, though so far he hasn’t won funding for that effort. He’s applied for grants with the National Science Foundation, but none has been successful.

In an interview, he answered cautiously when asked whether the subject is too politically dicey. He said that at NSF, “there’s variance among reviewers as to the scientific details of global warming.”

“Even among scientists who are fairly certain that global warming is real, which is most scientists, what the exact effects are going to be depend on the model of what’s going on with warming,” he added. “There’s a lot more variance in what people think the outcome to warming is going to be.”

Debbie Wing, a spokeswoman at NSF, said she could not comment on research proposals that hadn’t been funded. But she said all requests “go through a gold standard, merit-based, peer-reviewed evaluation for selection.”

Bailenson has secured some money to teach about ocean acidification. The cause of that — the seas absorbing excess carbon dioxide — essentially has the same culprit as climate change, he said.

He envisions developing a virtual reality experience in which a person would perform common activities in his or her home, all the while generating black balloons that represent carbon dioxide emissions. Those balloons would then ride up into the atmosphere and subsequently fall to the ocean. Once in the water, the molecules would prompt a change in the waters’ pH.

He said he could potentially have the person become a fish trying to find food that’s vanished, or an organism on a reef struggling to finding calcium for shell. The initial results of the cow study, showing that people do empathize with the animal, indicate that the same model could be useful in other experiments, he said.

Playing video games to visualize climate change
In Vancouver, computer games are being used to illustrate the effects of global warming.

High school students from the suburb of Delta go to the Decision Theatre to play a game where they make decisions about land development and power use. “It’s like ‘SimCity‘ with climate change overtones,” the Decision Theatre’s Herron said, referring to the series of city-building computer games.

Students can opt for choices that mitigate the effects of climate change, like putting housing next to transit, while “if you make other choices, you end up with waterfront property” because of flooding, he said.

Delta is funding the experiment as it faces major choices about adaptation. Sea-level rise likely will override existing dikes in the region, Herron said.

The idea is to talk to students and their families about picking options that can benefit people and “not try to sell it as we have to give up” everything, Herron said. If it’s presented as all sacrifice, he said, people won’t buy into it until forced to and it’s too late to limit warming.

At Harvard, the effort focuses on negotiation.

Participants sit in front of a computer screen and take on the role of a park ranger or a golf course owner while discussing uses for a pond and surrounding land. In one version, they then swap roles and debate from the other side.

Those who fill both personas “compromise more and form better relationships” than those playing just one role, said Hunter Gehlbach, associate professor of education at Harvard. The experiment measured negotiation by giving volunteers a pretend commission that increased if they brought the other person closer to their side and decreased for concessions.

The tests are important, Gehlbach said, because it’s one thing to know the correct scientific approaches to an environmental problem but another for disparate sides to agree on a solution.

“We know an awful lot about global warming, and yet there are a lot of personal and emotional, nonscientific barriers to getting better policies out there,” Gehlbach said. “That’s where I think the social science comes into play.”

Source: Scientific American

Where Corn Is King, a New Regard for Grass-Fed Beef.

Story at-a-glance

  • Grass-fed beef represents a sought-after solution to unsustainable agricultural practices – one that could not only drastically reduce pollution but also produce a nutritionally superior meat
  • While far from the norm at this point, a new appreciation for grass-fed meat, and all that it stands for, is steadily growing and these so-called ‘unconventional’ ranchers are now becoming mainstays in the industry
  • Grass-fed beef is higher in certain vitamins and minerals, lower in total fat, and has a more balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than grain-fed beef
  • Grass-fed beef is now widely available via farmer’s markets, food coops, direct farm-to-consumer sales, and even online.
  • grass-fed-cows

In the grand scheme of all that is wrong with modern agriculture, the unnatural transition that turned cattle (which naturally eat grass) into grain-eating ruminants is at the top of the list.

When a cow is left to eat on its own, it doesn’t choose corn or soy to munch on… it selects grass, but in the twisted realm of agribusiness, raising grass-fed cows, especially in the heart of ‘corn country’ (the Midwest) is now regarded as a specialty industry “for the crazies,” as the New York Times recently reported.1

“Where the great cattle herds once roamed, grass finishing — an intricate and lengthy ballet involving the balance of protein and energy derived from the stalk, with the flavor rendered by earth, plants and even stress — is a nearly lost art.

…said Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University… ‘The attitude out there is that grass-fed is for the crazies.’”

Yet, far from being ‘crazy,’ grass-fed beef represents a sought-after solution to unsustainable agricultural practices – one that could not only drastically reduce pollution but also produce a nutritionally superior meat.

While far from the norm at this point, a new appreciation for grass-fed meat, and all that it stands for, is steadily growing and these so-called ‘unconventional’ ranchers are now becoming mainstays in the industry.

Change to the Cattle Industry Must Come ‘From Educated People From the Outside’

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), in which the majority of US beef (and pork, chicken and eggs) is raised, contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – in fact, more than the entire global transportation industry.

They also contribute to climate disruption by their impact on deforestation and draining of wetlands, and because of the nitrous oxide emissions from huge amounts of pesticides used to grow the genetically engineered corn and soy fed to animals raised in CAFOs.

The cows are fattened for slaughter on giant feed lots as quickly as possible (on average between 14 and 18 months) with the help of grains, as CAFOs represent a corporate-controlled system characterized by large-scale, centralized, low profit-margin production, processing and distribution systems.

Contrary to popular arguments, factory farming is not a cheap, efficient solution to world hunger. Feeding huge numbers of confined animals actually uses more food, in the form of grains that could feed humans, than it produces. For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and dairy. That’s a 70 percent loss.

With the Earth’s population predicted to reach 9 billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford this reckless, unhealthy and environmentally disastrous farming system. And as Prescott Frost, great-grandson of poet Robert Frost who has entered the grass-fed meat business, told the New York Times:2

“If change is going to come to the cattle industry, it’s got to come from educated people from the outside,” Mr. Frost said, quoting from Allan Nation, the publisher of The Stockman Grass Farmer, considered the grazier’s bible.”

Grass-Fed Beef Is Better for You, Better for the Planet and Better for the Cows

A joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Clemson University researchers determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed is better than grain-fed beef for human health.3 In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:

Lower in total fat Higher in beta-carotene Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium Higher in total omega-3s
A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84) Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)


Another troubling aspect of grain-fed cattle involves the well-being of the animal and, consequently, the health effect this has on you. Common consequences among grain-fed cattle include:4

  1. Acidosis. During the normal digestive process, bacteria in the rumen of cattle produce a variety of acids. Saliva neutralizes the acidity from grass-based diets, but grain-based eating in feedlots prohibits saliva production. The net result is “acid indigestion.”

Animals with this condition are plagued with diarrhea, go off their feed, pant, salivate excessively, kick at their bellies, and eat dirt. Over time, acidosis can lead to a condition called “rumenitis,” an inflammatory response to too much acid and too little roughage and results in inefficient nutrient absorption.

  1. Liver abscesses. From 15 to 30 percent of feedlot cattle have liver abscesses, which result when bacteria may leak out through ulcerated rumen in cattle and are ultimately transported to the liver.
  2. Bloat. During digestion, cows produce gas and when they are on pasture, they belch up the gas without any difficulty. Grain-based feeding causes these gasses to become trapped, and results in bloat. In more serious cases of bloat, the rumen becomes so distended with gas that the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.
  3. Feedlot polio. A highly acidic digestive environment may result in the production of an enzyme called “thiaminase,” which destroys vitamin B1, starving the brain of energy and creating paralysis.
  4. Dust pneumonia. In dry weather, the feedlot can become a dust bowl, which springs the cattle’s immune system into action and keeps it running on a constant basis, ultimately resulting in respiratory ailments and even death.
  1. Virginia farmer Joel Salatin is a living example of how incredibly successful and sustainable natural farming can be. He produces beef, chicken, eggs, turkey, rabbits and vegetables. Yet, Joel calls himself a grass farmer, for it is the grass that transforms the sun into energy that his animals then feed on. By closely observing nature, Joel created a rotational grazing system that not only allows the land to heal but also allows the animals to behave the way the were meant to — expressing their “chicken-ness” or “pig-ness,” as Joel would say.
  2. Cows are moved every day, which mimics their natural patterns and promotes revegetation. Sanitation is accomplished by birds. The birds (chickens and turkeys) arrive three days after the cows leave — via the Eggmobile — and scratch around in the pasture, doing what chickens do best.
  3. No pesticides. No herbicides. No antibiotics. No seed spreading. Salatin hasn’t planted a seed or purchased a chemical fertilizer in 50 years. He just lets herbivores be herbivores and cooperates with nature, instead of fighting it. It’s a different and refreshing philosophy. When cows are raised on a ‘salad bar’ of natural grasses, the meat takes on different flavors that cannot be achieved with grain. Frost told the New York Times:5
  4. “’When the wine industry started out in California, nobody had a language for what a bouquet was,’ Mr. Frost, 55, said. ‘Vintners had to come up with a way an audience could have a conversation about hints of raspberries, of chamomile. And that’s what we have to do with beef.’”
  5. Farming done in this type of sustainable manner can be incredibly profitable, too. Instead of making $150 per acre per year from a crop that produces food for three months, but lays fallow for the rest of the year, Salatin’s making $3,000 per acre by rotating crops throughout the year, thereby making use of his land all 12 months — and maintaining its ecological balance at the same time. This generates complementary income streams for the small farmer and allows them to compete with CAFO operations, while protecting the land from ecological disasters.
  6. Where Can You Find Grass-Fed Beef?
  7. Currently, meat in supermarkets will be labeled 100% grass-fed if it came from pasture, but if it contains no label it’s probably CAFO-raised. In 2013, a new alliance of organic and natural health consumers, animal welfare advocates, anti-GMO and climate-change activists will tackle the next big food labeling battle: meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on factory farms, or CAFOs.
  8. This campaign, which aims to have CAFO foods labeled, will start with a massive program to educate consumers about the negative impacts of factory farming on the environment, on human health and on animal welfare, and then move forward to organize and mobilize millions of consumers to demand labels on beef, pork, poultry and dairy products derived from these unhealthy and unsustainable so-called “farming” practices.
  9. In the meantime, you can boycott food products from CAFOs and choose to support farmers who produce healthful grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy products using humane, environmentally friendly methods. You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture programs, many of which offer grass-fed beef. The following organizations can also help you locate grass-fed beef and other farm-fresh foods in your local area, raised in a humane, sustainable manner.




The Life of A Cow .

Many people are surprised to learn that nearly all cows used for milk are born with tissue that will develop into horns. But that’s just one of many secrets that farmers in the dairy industry keep from consumers. Want to learn more? Check out the infographic below for a glimpse at what life is like for cows on dairy farms and share this infographic on Facebook.

Want to help cows? Pledge to go vegan and ditch dairy for cruelty-free products today!

Source: PETA