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Forskningsartikel2021Vetenskapligt granskadÖppen tillgång

Care in dairy farming with automatic milking systems, identified using an Activity Theory lens

Lundstrom, Christina; Lindblom, Jessica


Context: In Sweden, 34% of herds in official statistics 2021 (77% of the cows) have an automatic milking system (AMS) and keep 19% of the dairy cows. Objective: This study should be considered in relation to the rapid increase of digitalisation in agriculture. It aimed at investigating Swedish farmers' experiences and reflections in dairy farming concerning AMS use from a care perspective, based on two research questions: 1) What kinds of success factors and management challenges do farmers experience with AMS usage? and 2) How do farmers view their work environment in this kind of system? Methods: A mixed method approach was performed, using method triangulation through a questionnaire, interviews, and field visits. The Activity Theory (AT) was used as a theoretical lens to consider care practice in the dairy farming as a learning system. Results: AND CONCLUSIONS: Participating dairy farmers were found to be in a continuous learning process on different levels in their system, from detailed problems with an individual cow or the herd to the whole dairy system. Implementation of AMS required learning in order to manage, and thus care for, a system comprising of animals, technology, and humans, to increase business viability. In successful AMS use, willingness to learn, adapt to the local situation, and continually improve practice, or care as a patterning of activities, appeared to be the most important factors. With more people involved, differentiations were possible, which in turn accentuated the need for more trained staff who can perform more complicated tasks. The findings indicated high importance of experience and a 'stockperson's eye', in combination with tool-mediated seeing using data from the robot, in developing enhanced professional vision and good care. A good stockperson had broad competence combining a stockperson's eye with experience with robot data. One of the greatest challenges for dairy farms was finding a good stockperson as staff or advisor. Increased flexibility in work and better physical health were important driving forces for implementing AMS, while handling alarms was mentally stressful and gave different perspectives on AMS vulnerability. Overall, the analysis of the collected data showed that AMS had brought major, primarily positive, changes in daily work and increased work satisfaction for most farmers, with a clear majority of the respondents feeling good in their work situation and enjoying their work. Significance: Application of AT in studying AMS from a care perspective, represents a shift from traditional research that normally addresses technological inventions, to studying farmers' socio-technical system. The AT lens revealed the work practices in performing care, as a patterning of activities accomplished by a tinkering learning process, in the rich and messy matrix of humans, cows, and technology.


Milking robot; Experiential learning; Socio-technical system; Care; Activity theory; Agriculture 5; 0; Work environment

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Journal of Rural Studies
2021, Volym: 87, sidor: 386-403 Utgivare: PERGAMON-ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD

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