My family's dairy farm is small - just 38 cows. To give some perspective, the average size of a dairy farm in Minnesota was 90 cows as of 2007. In California and other western states, that number is much larger. My family's cows are milked in a 38 stall tie-stall/stanchion barn, which is an older style that most people are more familiar with. Each cow has a stall that is assigned to them and they learn which stall is theirs. With such a small herd and the type of barn we have, my family does not utilize a lot of the more advanced technology, such as robotic milkers and herd management systems.
Today I started technical training through work for a line of dairy automation products and I have two more days of this training. This line includes software and hardware that can sort cows, track cow activity to help monitor which cows have high and low activity, monitor hoof care, and monitor milking. I've been in the dairy industry since I was born but I am continually amazed by the technology that is available. It often makes for less work for the farmer, but it also improves the cows lives as it helps catch things that the farmer might otherwise miss or not notice as quickly.
My boyfriend's family's dairy farm is not much larger than my family's at 100 cows, but it is very different. These cows are housed in a free stall barn, where there are stalls but is all open to the cows which no assigned stalls. Feeding is done as a group, rather than in individual rations. The cows are milked in a parallel parlor. This is where the cows are sent from the free stall barn to a holding area and then into milking stalls on either side of the parlor (thus parallel as there are parallel sides). In the "pit", below the parlor, are the people who milk the cows. Once a side of the parlor is done milking, they exit back into the barn and the next group enters. Sensors read the cow's ID tag as she enters the parlor so that my boyfriend's dad can tell how much milk came from each individual cow during each milking.
The level of technology is different on my family's farm and my boyfriend's family's farm, but they are both good farms doing what works best for them at the moment. Both are also looking into upgrading technology. I enjoy learning about the technology that is available to today's farmers and hearing how it can improve both the farmers and the cows lives. For instance, software and hardware that can detect lameness in cows and gives cows hoof bathes - now that's cool.