I had the privilege to visit various robotic milking farms recently, based in Cheshire, Shropshire and Pembrokeshire.
I spent time with each farm to learn about their robotic milking system and how it works for them and their farm.
The farms have installed robots over the past 10 years and feel it has been the best decision they’ve made for them and their farm. For some the decision was made to invest and change the system, or leave the industry, for others it was a management decision made to streamline the business. But the key point that came across is that they either didn’t like the actual milking of the cows or felt time spent in the parlour was wasted.
By stopping the physical act of milking they have become cow managers.
Instead of 4 hours a day milking, most hours are better spent, there is time to sit and think about genetics and sires, there is time to formulate the best nutrition, there is time to look at alternative markets, there is time to observe bulling cows, there is time to be flexible.
The greatest gift the robot can give you is the gift of time, no longer ruled by a 4.30am start or having to be back in the parlour by 3.30pm, time is yours to spend how you wish. Routine jobs still need to be done, but they can be done in your time, it means that you can see the children off to school, watch the school play or stay at the show until 6!
The Lely robot collects a lot of information about each individual cow. This data, although daunting at first, can be put in order of preference and is an excellent tool. The A4 and A5 have activity and rumination reports, along with information about if your cow is not eating ,her yield, spikes in temperature, daily milk testing, cell counts and much much more. The data, once you’ve stopped being daunted by it, is easy to read, the cows that have potential issues are flagged up at the top of the screen, with all the information you need about that individual.
The cows I observed were relaxed no signs of bullying, no apparent matriarch ruling the shed. Cows lying down, chewing the cud, grazing the feed passage, waiting calmly to be milked, the cows looked healthy, they looked well, especially as most are averaging 28 – 34 litres a day.
1 farmer I met with was 2 members of staff down, but there wasn’t the frantic rushing and stress to milk, feed, scrape, the robots did the milking the Vector the feeding, all he had to do was check the data, pen up any late / slow milkers, and observe for bulling cows.
Labour is an issue facing all farms, especially when the farmer does want to get away. Staff trained to use robots are invaluable, as is a neighbour who can be called upon, if the robot needs some attention.
A robot system can revolutionise a family farm, it can free up time to be used as you want. However, robots need to suit the farm you have not the farm you want.
Some still believe that a parlour is the best way to milk cows, and if it suits you and your farm and is done to the best of your ability it will be the best way for you. The robot does not take away the need to be the best cow manager, as with any system it is only as good as the person running it.