After Steve and Lori Dockendorf’s two oldest children left their dairy farm to go to college, the husband-and-wife owners of a 100-cow farm in Watkins, Minn., had to figure out how to replace the labor they’d lost. The traditional solution would have been to hire a couple of extra hands. Instead, the Dockendorfs went with robots: robots to help feed the cows, robots to help clean the barn, even robots that can milk the cows. The farmers used to spend three hours milking, twice a day. “Now,” says Lori, “we wake up in the morning, and the robots have already milked all the cows.”

There’s a notion that life on the farm is simple, but running a dairy farm is wickedly complicated. Unlike with other businesses that make things, the machines that produce milk are, well, cows. Cows need to be fed. They need to sleep. They gain and lose weight. The number of variables a dairy farmer has to stay on top of is staggering.

For more, see: Big Dairy Enters the Era of Big Data