Robotic milking and the emergent relational geographies of livestock agriculture

Christopher Bear, L. Holloway, K. Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper explores the co-constitutive practices associated with robotic milking technologies. Introduced commercially in 1992, they have since become especially prominent in Northern Europe and the USA. Robots are sold with the promise of improved dairy cow welfare and productivity, reduced labour costs and the liberation of farmers and farm workers from the routines of conventional milking: the machines milk cows individually, at any time of a cow's choosing, without direct human involvement or presence. In this paper, we investigate the new modes of relating that emerge through the introduction of these new technologies. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with UK dairy farmers, alongside participant observation around robotic milking practices, we examine the ways in which milking practices are negotiated between cows, farmers and robots. Friction may develop here when cows struggle to adapt, robots find some cows more appropriate for their technologies than others, and farmers are confronted by new forms of information that challenge their understandings of animal welfare. The supposed benefits of robotic technology may as a result be contested, as unanticipated consequences become evident. Through this study, we critique the tendency of geographers to focus on relationships between humans and animals, or humans and technologies, foregrounding instead the complex material-semiotic assemblages that involve not only farmers, cows and robots, but politics and affects of care, productivity and disciplinary tactics. We highlight the different enactments of 'cow' and farmer that emerge and consider the implications of these new relationships for understandings of farm animal welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2011
EventAssociation of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2011 - Seattle, Washington, United States of America
Duration: 13 Apr 2011 → …


ConferenceAssociation of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
CitySeattle, Washington
Period13 Apr 2011 → …


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