Marinus Dijkstra

Marinus Dijkstra of Cottonwood Dairy in San Jacinto, California, has conceptualized a robotic system for administering vaccinations and fertility shots to dairy cattle.

A robot that automates dairy-cow vaccinations and fertility shots is under development by Pharm Robotics of San Jacinto, California.

The company plans to eventually launch a prototype of the robot with assistance from the Sprint Accelerator program, sponsored by Sprint and Dairy Farmers of America. The accelerator is a 90-day program in which startups receive mentoring and resources from business leaders from Sprint, Dairy Farmers of America and CoBank in addition to other industry experts and mentors.

Marinus Dijkstra and Alexander Chuck co-founded Pharm Robotics about a year ago. They have filed for a patent for their robotic-injection system.

One of the reasons Pharm Robotics was chosen to participate in the accelerator program is that automated injection is a new concept in the dairy-production arena. Robots related to milking and feeding already have been commercialized, but robots for administering shots haven’t, said David Darr, president of farm services at Dairy Farmers of America. The concept also addresses a potential solution scarcity and rising costs of labor.

“If done correctly we may see more technology in this area,” Darr said. “It also could be used to document the judicious use of animal-health products in terms of dosage and timing.”

Pharm Robotics founders are receiving advice from business experts involved in the Sprint Accelerator program. Among the areas of advice are how to develop a business plan and meet capitalization needs, as well as labor, pricing, sales and marketing, Darr said.

The accelerator helps startups like Pharm Robotics to take their concept “from the back of a napkin to a business plan with legs on it,” Darr said.

The idea for the robotic vaccination system was borne out of a need, Dijkstra said. Vaccinating large herds requires a lot of labor. He has about 20 years of experience in the dairy industry. Manager of Cottonwood Dairy of San Jacinto, Dijkstra oversees the milking of about 2,500 cows on two dairy farms. His business partner, Chuck, is the operations manager of Cottonwood Compost, which produces soil amendments from the farms’ cow manure.

“We struggle to find and train employees to give shots,” Dijkstra said. “We saw a need to do this an easier way.”

In applying for the 2018 Sprint Accelerator program, the Pharm Robotics founders pointed out that regardless of what reproductive programs or vaccines are used, administering shots requires labor and time that could otherwise be used in other areas on a farm.

The system under development would use radio frequency-identification – RFID – to read ear tags to track cows. Targeted cows would be directed to an automated gate system. Once in that holding area, radio-frequency identification would again be used to scan the ear tag to verify the cow is to be given a shot. A robotic arm would be used to deliver the injection. The system would be integrated into a computerized dairy-management program.

The developers applied to the Sprint Accelerator system so they could build a prototype. They said they plan to test the prototype in real-life conditions. Visit sprintaccelerator.com for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Email lgrooms@madison.com to contact her.