The Laird Family of Blyth Farm located in the valley of West Linton have recently made the move to robotic milking in a new purpose built shed.
With dairy farming being in the blood for three generations, it comes as no surprise that they have come through a journey of milking in a variety of systems including an old byre, herringbone parlour, rotary and now dairy automation.
The father and son duo, Alistair & Colin Laird (pictured above), along with their wives Kathleen & Izzy run the ‘Blythbridge’ Holstein herd. The herd currently consists of 570 cows, with 500 of these in milk production.
In 2019, the Laird Family made the decision to erect a new shed to accommodate their robotic milking project. They worked closely with Brian Hewitt Construction (BHC) in Biggar, Lanarkshire to design a shed which would be as efficient as possible. Taking into consideration separation pens and areas for foot trimming. Colin added “We didn’t want to have to make any changes to the shed 10 years down the line”.
Alistair and Colin then had to do their homework on which robotic milk system they were going to install into their impressive setup. Weighing the options up, it was between two brands, Lely being one of them. When it came to the final crunch decision; “We felt Lely was the leading brand and the safer option with more of the Lely product out there”. In 2019, eight A5 Lely Astronauts were installed into the purpose build shed which can accommodate 490 cows.
When Colin was moving on with this project, he did not have any reservations on the robots he had decided on, “We were very confident with our robot choice & really just focussed on the layout of the shed to suit the robots”.
With the Lely Astronauts being installed for over a year now, Colin is starting to see the benefits for himself. The cows have a consistent higher milk yield all year round, averaging in at 40 litres. Colin added, “We are seeing our fertility improve, this is due to much less stress on the cows”. Colin highlighted the Lely software is exceptionally accurate, it is quick at alerting of any underlying health issue on the cow that a farm worker might not be able to suspect in a conventional parlour, especially with the cow numbers that the Laird family have.
Prior to the robots being installed, Colin was milking 3 times a day in a rotary parlour. By making the move to dairy automation he was able to half his staff numbers. And the staff that remain at Blyth would not have remained had they still been milking conventionally. Although staff has decreased, Colin added, “I spend more time with the cows now and able to give them more individual attention that they didn’t maybe get before, I wouldn’t say robotic milking saves much more time, it just gives a more flexible approach to your working day and to spend more time focusing on the cows ”.
To compliment the astronauts, the Lairds also installed two Lely Junos and three Lely Discovery’s. The Juno works 24/7 to ensure the feed, which is fed once a day, is pushed up to the feed barrier to make the feed consistently available for the cows. This increases the cows feed intake which in turn promotes higher milk production. The Juno also has the added benefit of savings on both labour and energy.
The Lely Discovery’s work 24/7 to scrape the slatted floors. Colin added, “If we have a breakdown or a puncture, it is a piece of equipment we are quick to get it fixed & to get it back working.” The Discovery ensures clean feet which then promotes cleaner beds which helps with the management of udder health.
More recently, early 2021, a further two A5 Lely Astronauts have been installed into an existing shed at Blyth. Within this time, the Lely Meteors were installed into all ten A5 robots. The automatic foot sprayer is installed into the floor of the robot. This washes the cow’s feet when they enter the robot and after being milked, the feet are sprayed with a care product prior to the cow leaving the robot. This Lely Meteor is much cleaner than a footbath and uses less water.
Colin is delighted with the service he has received from Lely and hopes this continues for years down the line. He added, “Dairy automation is a more positive way of milking and I would definitely urge farmers to think seriously about it. There is no better feeling than walking down into the shed, the cows chewing their cud and the sound of the robot working away and Bill Withers "lovely day" on the radio”