Investing in robotics can help dairies adapt to a dwindling labor force.
By Annie Siebert, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Milking a cow used to require only a bucket and a person unafraid of being kicked in the face.
Now, it takes a lot less manpower, but it requires lasers, computers, iPhone apps and computer chips embedded in cows' collars.
Kepple's Family Farm in Westmoreland County, Pa., has been using robotic milkers since 2011, when the family sold the rights to some of its 200 acres for Marcellus Shale gas well drilling, pouring the profits into the three milkers, which run about $120,000 a pop.
The Kepple family has owned the farm since 1886; it is now run largely by Jim Kepple, his wife Michelle and their son Mike, 21.
In addition to the dairy operation, the family also grows corn, soybeans, hay and alfalfa to feed the cows on the 200-acre farm and hundreds of acres of rented farmland nearby.
Despite the seemingly never-ending construction of strip malls and chain restaurants in places like North Huntingdon and Hempfield, farming remains the No. 1 industry in Westmoreland County.
Commissioner Ted Kopas said farming is "immensely important" to Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County.
"The challenge is, everyone likes to eat, but no one wants to farm," he said.
Fortunately, he said, family farms have adapted, using technology to replace some of the manpower. Westmoreland County is still dotted with livestock, dairy and crop farms.
"The fact that it remains so important shows the agriculture community has adapted to the changing times," Kopas said.