DIGHTON — As part of a major expansion project and upgrade on its campus, Bristol County Agricultural High School in Dighton has installed a new state-of-the-art milking robot in its new dairy barn. The new first-of-its-kind technology is announced by the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) and Kevin Braga, the school’s Acting Superintendent/Principal.
Last month Bristol Aggie began utilizing a new milking system at its recently-opened dairy barn on campus. The centerpiece of the new barn, a fully-automated robotic milking machine, allows for cows to be milked 24 hours a day in a controlled environment. Prior to last month Bristol Aggie staff would start at 5 a.m. daily and milk cows on a twice-a-day schedule.
Once a cow makes its way into the machine room, the milker will drop down grain for the cow to feed while it is being milked. The robotic arm will safely milk the cow and a recording of the process will be made for staff to view either in real-time or at a later date.
The cows were moved into the new barn at the end of June, and for the first week they were only in the space for a few hours a day. The following week they spent time in the barn overnight, and started milking with the new machine on June 23. Staff members and cows have been getting comfortable with the new space since then.
Students assisted moving the cows in and out of the barn during the first week. As it was right at the end of the school year they have not been able to fully utilize the space, but the school is already looking forward to having the students benefit from the barn starting with the next school year.
“Our students are involved in the care and maintenance of our animals every day, so this barn will be a tremendous resource to have and a great hands-on learning opportunity,” Bristol Aggie Animal Science Department Chairperson Leslie Blanchette said. “Right now we are all still learning and getting adjusted. The cows’ behavior will dictate how the barn is fully utilized, as the health and well-being of our animals is of the utmost importance. We look forward to being more comfortable with the space by the time school starts up again in the fall.”
Bristol-Aggie is currently the only high school in the state (and as far as staff believes, the country) to utilize a fully-automatic robotic milker, which is specifically a DeLaval-brand voluntary milking system (VMS). Some colleges, including the University of Connecticut, use such a system as well.
“This is a very exciting time for our school, as we are now ahead of the curve using such cutting-edge technology like this,” Acting Superintendent Braga said. “Our students and staff have always done such amazing work with so little, and with these upgrades the sky is really the limit once they are given tools like this.”
Bristol Aggie consulted with Mark Duffy, the school’s Agri-Mark cooperative representative, for more than two years during the planning of the new facility. The overall expansion project was funded in part through a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
A State-of-the-Art Space
The school’s new dairy barn is part of a larger 196,000 square-foot campus expansion and renovation project that officially concluded this spring. The project also included the addition of a new Student Commons, Center for Science and the Environment (CSE) and renovations to Gilbert Hall and the agricultural mechanics building.
Each cow in the barn is equipped with an identification tag that is read as the cow comes through the gate to be milked, which will monitor feeding times. Cows are also given biometric collars that can track their movement as well as health measurements. The machine itself has a high-resolution camera that can provide data to staff members through a mobile app as the milking occurs.
“Not only is the milking machine fully automated, but we receive all of this data in real-time as well,” Animal Science instructor Caitlin Bosworth said. “This is not only highly beneficial to us and for the health and safety of the cows, but it will provide tremendous educational advantages to our students. The barn and all of its features will give students the opportunity to see the real operation of a full working dairy barn, with the added benefit of it being totally state-of-the-art.”
In addition to the separate automated milking area, the new barn allows the approximately 25 milking cows 24/7 access to food and water as well as comfort areas where they can lie down and relax. Extra tall ceilings provide increased ventilation, and air exchange fans prevent flies and regulate temperature.
The barn is also equipped with self-operating tools that operate multiple times a day to keep the space clean for the animals. There is a separate viewing area by the milking station so staff and technicians can view the milking in real-time.
The school is looking forward to allowing all students — not only those in the Animal Science program — to benefit from the barn and its numerous technological advancements.
“This type of facility is great for drawing attention to our school and recruiting incoming students, and also being a tool available for students from programs such as robotics, environmental engineering, and more,” Blanchette said. “It is something our entire school community will greatly benefit from.”
While dairy farming might not be a major industry in Massachusetts, the ability to provide such a high level of real-world, hands-on education with state-of-the-art technology is something that will position Bristol Aggie students to get jobs in major farming communities across the country, from New York and Vermont to Wisconsin.
MAVA, the professional association that represents the interests of agricultural and vocational-technical high schools throughout Massachusetts (of which Bristol County Agricultural is a member), celebrates the school’s technological and education advancements.
“We applaud Bristol Aggie for its forward-thinking approach to its new dairy barn,” said MAVA President and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Superintendent Dr. Andrew Linkenhoker. “We have seen time and time again vocational and technical schools leading the way in Massachusetts in terms of giving students access to the tools needed to immediately succeed in the workplace. We look forward to seeing Bristol Aggie students getting to use this new space and enjoy all of the educational advantages it provides.”