Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Re-capturing bovine life: Robot-cow relationships, freedom and control in dairy farming

Holloway, Lewis; Bear, Christopher; Wilkinson, Katy


Profile Image

Professor Lewis Holloway
Professor of Human Geography. Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise, Faculty of Science and Engineering

Christopher Bear

Katy Wilkinson


Robotic milking machines are novel technologies that take over the labour of dairy farming and reduce the need for human-animal interactions. Replacing ‘conventional' twice-a-day milking managed by people with a system that supposedly allows cows the freedom to be milked automatically whenever they choose, it is claimed that robotic milking has health and welfare benefits for cows, increases productivity, and has lifestyle advantages for dairy farmers. Such claims are certainly contested, but the installation of robotic milkers clearly establishes new forms of relationships between cows, technologies and dairy farmers.This paper draws on in-depth interviews with farmers and observational research on farms to examine relationships between representations of robotic milkers as a technology which gives cows freedom and autonomy, and practices and mechanisms which suggest that bovine life is re-captured and disciplined in important ways through the introduction of this technology. We focus on two issues. First, we explore changes in what it is to ‘be bovine' in relation to milking robots, drawing on a combination of a discursive framing of cows' behaviour and ‘nature' by dairy farmers and on-farm observation of cow-technology interaction. Second, we examine how such changes in bovinity might be articulated through conceptions of biopower which focus on knowledge of and intervention in the life of both the individual cow body and the herd. Such knowledge and intervention in the newly created sites of the robotic milking dairy are integral to these remodelled, disciplinary farm systems. Here, cows' bodies, movements and subjectivities are trained and manipulated in accordance with a persistent discourse of agricultural productivism. In discussing these issues, the paper seeks to show how particular representations of cows, the production of embodied bovine behaviours, technological interventions and micro-geographies contribute to a re-capturing and re-enclosure of bovine life which counters the liberatory discourses which are used to promote robotic milking.


Holloway, L., Bear, C., & Wilkinson, K. (2014). Re-capturing bovine life: Robot-cow relationships, freedom and control in dairy farming. Journal of rural studies, 33, 131-140.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Feb 26, 2013
Publication Date Jan 1, 2014
Deposit Date Nov 13, 2014
Publicly Available Date Nov 13, 2014
Journal Journal of rural studies
Print ISSN 0743-0167
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 33
Pages 131-140
Keywords Geography, Planning and Development; Development; Sociology and Political Science
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Journal of rural studies, 2014, v.33
Contract Date Nov 13, 2014


You might also like

Downloadable Citations