GREENVILLE Dairy had a vision of reducing its reliance on labour whilst also aiming to achieve maximum efficient production out of its herd of 640 Holstein cows. How this was achieved will be central to an Open Day on the Newtownstewart farm, to be held next Wednesday, September 11.
It was a bold venture by Jason Mitchell to become the first dairy in Northern Ireland to install six of the De Laval VMS robots in 2018. The six robots would milk 380 cows in the herd while the rotary milking parlour continued alongside for the remaining cows. The robots would use a guided milk-first system which directs all the cows through the robot to be milked first in order to be fed. This system would drive intakes and reduce labour spent on collecting trouble cows, some of which you are bound to have in a herd of this size.
These six VMS classic robots were then followed by two of the new VMS 300 robots in 2019, increasing the number of robotic milked cows from 480-500 depending on the time of year, leaving 140 cows to be milked on the rotary parlour twice per day with the remainder of the herd dry. The new VMS 300 robots attach faster thus increasing the capacity for the number of cows it can milk.
It was recognised that for the robots to achieve their maximum efficiency, cow comfort would be a key focus in creating an environment for the cow where she could maximise milk production sustainably.
Two hurdles for dairy farmers when considering cow comfort for robotic year round housed dairies currently is:
Firstly, housing cows all year round puts a lot of pressure on the cow with no respite time at grass to recover from injuries sustained in the dairy. In these dairies, cows spend up to 500 hours per year in their cubicles.
Secondly, as robotically milked cows don’t all leave the dairy shed to be milked at the same time, there becomes the new issue of cleaning and maintaining the beds. Clean dry beds are essential to promote cow resting time and reduce mastitis, therefore cow positioning and maintaining clean beds are essential in a robotic dairy of this size.
Jason said: “All robot cows are on Cowcoons and we were looking to maximise comfort with as little disruption as possible.”
It was here that the Cowcoon cubicles proved to be instrumental in ensuring the cows would be injury-free while they rest against the flexible plastic leg and yet also firmly positioned, as would be expected from a metal cubicle. It is for these reasons that Wilson Agri reports that 90 per cent of their robotic dairy customers use Cowcoons as opposed to metal cubicles.
To complete the cow’s bed Jason’s choice of mattress was the Pasture Mat, which he already had in existing buildings where they were proven for almost 20 years. With the addition of 30mm PU foam pad and 5mm latex coated top cover, it makes for a very comfortable bed. The cows get a sure footing from the moment they set foot on the mattress whilst also maintaining an easy to clean surface.
The Premium Pad foam layer helps to raise the cow off the under mattress for air to pass through, helping to cool her when housed during the summer months. The breathable waterproof top cover ensures that any liquids on the surface not absorbed by the bedding quickly evaporate, resulting in a much drier surface compared to rubber alternatives.
Many dairies in the UK mainland have even removed deep sand beds to install Pasture Mats with no detriment to resting time.
The walkways next the feed have Dairy Grip Zig Zag rubber flooring which gives grip and reduces wear on the cow’s feet as they turn. Being steel reinforced it will have a long life and will withstand continual scraping. The aim is to reduce lameness, hoof trimming and veterinary costs, whilst also encouraging cows to feed for longer resulting in higher intakes.
All in all, the cows’ yields have risen substantially since entering the new shed, and throughout the last year an average of 40 litres/cow/day has been reached. A total increase of 150,000 litres of extra milk per month has been produced by the same cows since entering the new shed with robotic milking, Cowcoons and Deep Pasture Mats.
Whilst Greenville Dairies is generously hosting an open day and the opportunity to view this good example of a modern efficient dairy unit with the opportunity on the day to ask Jason questions, organisers would respectfully ask people to keep in mind that after the event he is a very busy person.
n Farm address for the open day, 40 Greenville Road, Newtownstewart, Omagh, BT78 4LU.