By Julie Hazelton
GREATER flexibility, enhanced per-formance and efficiency, and a better work-life balance are just a few of the reasons why an increasing number of dairy farmers are opting for robotic milking technology.
There are almost 500 Lely Astronaut robots milking on farms throughout Northern Ireland, which is testimony to the company’s advanced and world-leading technology, coupled with the unrivalled back-up service provided by the team at Lely Centre Eglish.
The McClory family, from Loughbrickland, installed two Lely Astronaut A4 robots in September last year. The Bronte Holstein herd is managed on a daily basis by brothers Henry and Martin, who also operate a poultry enterprise producing free-range eggs.
Henry’s son, Owen, is currently studying for a degree in chemical engineering at Queen’s University, but is very hands-on when it comes to the day-to-day running of the farm.
The McClory family has been breeding pedigree Holsteins for over 30 years, and supplies milk to Lakeland Dairies. “The herd has been bred over the years using top bloodlines with a focus on longevity, yield and components,” explained Henry.
Martin continued: “We were milking twice daily using a modern 18:36 swing over parlour, but were finding that an increasing number of cows, almost half the herd, were leaking milk in the cubicles and would benefit from a three times-a-day milking routine.”
With a busy daily workload, and labour a limiting factor, Henry, Martin and Owen decided to explore ways to maximise milk production while enhancing cow comfort and welfare.
“We looked at a number of possibilities, but quickly agreed that robotic technology was the way forward,” added Martin. “We’ve had a Lely Calm calf feeder for over 12 years, so we’ve had experience of the support network provided by Lely in Northern Ireland.
After speaking to Lely Centre Eglish boss Jim Irwin, the McClorys decided to invest in two Lely Astronaut A4 robots. The herd is divided into two batches. Fresh calved and high yielding cows are milked by the robots; while the remainder of the herd is milked twice daily in the conventional parlour.
“The system works well,” explained Henry. “The cows have adapted to the two systems, and are moved off the robot once they are around 200 days calved.”
The Bronte herd’s A4 models were reconditioned, and supported by a 12-month warranty. Jim Irwin said: “With rising overhead costs on farms, we are seeing a growing demand for reconditioned robots. They go through the workshop and experienced technicians carry out 200 stringent checks and updates before awarding Lely’s Taurus certification. The reconditioned robots come complete with Lely’s latest Horizon management software and will provide many years of reliable and efficient service.”
Minimal building work was required to accommodate the two A4 robots.
“Lely’s project co-ordinators come from farming backgrounds. They were fantastic from start to finish, and were at the end of the phone to answer our questions,” added Henry.
“We were fortunate to have the option of removing cubicles to create the space required for the robots. We also created a separation area which is used for training heifers and drying off purposes.”
Martin continued: “Lely Centre Eglish has engineers with over 20 years of experience working with robots, and their knowledge and enthusiasm was instrumental throughout.”
Seven-months into the new regime and Henry, Martin and Owen are very pleased with their investment. “The cows are more relaxed, milk yield has increased, and we’re experiencing less udder health problems. Cows are also showing stronger heats,” said Owen.
“There are around 115 cows going through the robots, with the remainder milked in the parlour. Prior to starting the robots the herd was averaging 27.9 litres of milk per cow per day,” added Owen.
“Yields have risen over four litres per cow, and we are currently averaging 32.8 litres per cow per day. The cows in the parlour are averaging just over 26 litres daily, while we are achieving around 39 litres and averaging 3.3 milkings per day on the robots.”
Cows are housed and fed TMR comprising of grass and maize silage mixed with a dairy blend.
The ration is formulated to provide maintenance plus 15 litres, with additional concentrates fed through the robot to a maximum of 12kgs per head per day depending on individual yield.
Lely’s Horizon software is farmer-friendly. Information on each individual cow can be obtained from the farm computer, and remotely via an App. The system generates a host of herd health and production information, including yields, rumination activity, milking efficiency, feed and fertility optimisation.
Owen added: ”Lely Horizon is cloud-based, and the information can be accessed by our nutritionist and vet.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.