A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to visit a dairy farm in Brant County, southwest of Toronto. It was a beautiful farm with a state of the art robotic milking system – which basically means, the cows decide for themselves when they’re ready to be milked and the machine takes care of it, saving a lot of time and work for farmer Chris Vandenberg.
Now this in itself was cool as I had never seen one of these set ups before, even though they are starting to become more in Ontario. But what really tweaked my interest, as a self-professed social media and new technology geek, was that some of Chris’ cows have their own Twitter accounts and are merrily tweeting away as they go about their daily lives!
Here’s how it works. In order to be milked by the robotic milking machine, each cows wears an electronic tag around her neck (pictured on the right) that tells the robot when she was last milked and tracks how much milk she produces etc. The tags on 12 of Chris’ cows are connected to Twitter, sending a tweet when they interact with the robot.
For example, here’s what “Attention Please” (here’s her Twitter profile pic below!), the most popular bovine Tweeter with 19 followers, had to say on her Twitter feed over several hours recently:
“9.2 kg of frothy deliciousness for the humans.” (5:38 pm)
“I said “please” but the robot just doesn’t go for manners. All business all the time.” (8:40 pm)
“Tried to get into the pen. No such luck.” (8:48 pm)
“Tried again. Wish I could read that robot’s mind.” (10:32 pm)
“It took me 5:35 secs, to give 11.4 kgs. Feel good.” (1:41 am)
The project, launched last December, is the brain child of Marcel O’Gorman, head of the University of Waterloo’s critical media lab, and Ron Broglio, an English professor from Georgia Gwinnett College. Their goal was to link farmers and technology in the minds of consumers by putting a spotlight on the highly technological nature of farming through social media.
“Most of us think of technology only in fast-paced city life but it’s also on the farms,” says Broglio.”Most people don’t realize how embedded technology is in farming and how we need it in order to feed people.”
For Vandenberg, getting involved with the project seemed like a good way to demystify farming to consumers.
“I’ve always liked technology and although I don’t really use Twitter, I do use Facebook,” says Vandenberg. “Putting the cows on the Internet is an ideal way to teach people about dairy farming and where their food comes from.”
At the moment, the cows’ website and Twitter profiles are pretty generic, but Vandenberg would consider letting the researchers introduce him as the farmer and making the site a little more personal if they were looking to develop the project further.
“Putting a face to the farmer could be a logical next step and would make the project more real for people,” he says.
The tweeting cows can be seen at http://teattweet.net or you can follow them on Twitter: @AttnPlease, @ChargeCindy, @ChargeGina, @ChargeMabel, @ContrastAmanda, @FreerideSpeedy, @FrostyLace, @GoldwynWindy, @Jerry_J_Lo, @KurtAppeal, @MontgomeryMae, @MortyFy.