Ray Wolfe really "cow-tows" to high tech advances. By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.

Next time your crews resist a high-tech improvement, tell them about Ray Wolfe's cows.

Wolfe, who runs Wolfe's PowerLine Dairy off RR 1 in Milton, Pa., has placed activity monitors around the neck of each of his 400 Holsteins. The monitors radio the herd's movements hourly to antennas in the barn. Data tracked on a computer workstation warns if a cow is sick or ready to be bred.

Other software logs milk weights when each cow reports to work at Wolfe's rotary parlor every day. Each cow is milked for about five minutes on the 32-stall steel carousel, and the cows average about 8 gallons of milk daily. Wolfe milks 400 cows in three hours. A computer hooked to the milker reads a pickup on each cow's collar. Wolfe can tell the last time the cow calved and what group she's from in the barn. A cow's history is kept on computer, and her lifetime production is tracked. If a cow's efficiency consistently waivers, she's sold.

Electronic IDs, special software, and a computer workstation can track milk produced, births, cow activity, and sickness at Wolfe's PowerLine Dairy.

Photo: Dawn Wolfe

"We use the information to improve ourselves, to improve the quality of the milk," Wolfe says. The data also keeps Wolfe's six employees efficient. If records say 10 cows gave 10% less milk volume, employees can monitor just those 10 cows instead of watching the entire herd for signs of illness.

Shirley Roenfeldt of Dairy Herd Management, a business magazine for commercial dairy producers, says Wolfe is typical of producers who have switched from dairy as a way of life to dairy as a business. Wolfe is among about 8% of 90,000 dairy producers in the United States with 200 or more cows.

Technology has contributed to a steady rise in milk production. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, milk production averaged 1,134 gallons per cow in 1970. By 1998, average production jumped to almost 2,000 gallons -- a 76% increase.