Automation is the future for dairy farming, says Chuck and Michele Baulch.
Robotic systems help to solve labour issues, improve overall enterprise efficiency and for us introduce that element of flexibility. We are setting our sights on continuing to build cow numbers to 350 in order to develop a robust business for the next generation; we’ve four children aged between 22 and 13 years of age, and 20-year-old Alex is already back working on the farm.”
Eight months ago, the Baulch family who farm near Okehampton, Devon ‘switched on’ the development - a single span cubicle shed for 180 head with three, Lely A5 automated milking systems, a Juno feed pusher and Discovery 90 SW automated slurry scraper. They relocated 150 pedigree Holsteins from their conventional parlour system and yield is already heading towards an average 11,500 litres, up 30% on previous from an average 2.9 visits a day. Preg rates have improved from 18.5 to 26.4. “Yes it’s been a massive investment, however we’re already seeing the payback.” That’s not all, says Michele. “The system and its T4C software offers a lot more information enabling us to make better management decisions. Nowadays we’ve so much more time to spend with the cows and daily study the reports. We are monitoring individual yield and milk quality - we watch for spikes. Cell count has remained stable at SCC 147 and bactoscan 11, however taking in the overall improved environment we have been able to reduce antibiotic usage by 80%.
“We also routinely check individual milking speed, temperature, rumination and cow weight so we can pick up issues before they become apparent. The weigh floor in the robot provides greater accuracy if individuals require attention.”
Chuck says the Juno has also to take credit for contributing to yield increase pushing up the TMR 15 times a day, keeping feed fresh and minimising waste, whilst the Discovery which is programmed to scrape the passages every 30 minutes, is reducing digital dermatitis incidence and resulting in cleaner legs and udders.
Until nine months ago, the Baulch family operated a nine-hour daily routine milking 240 cows through a 20:20 conventional parlour; the herd was averaging 8,750 litres. “The parlour needed updating, we needed a new system to allow herd expansion and we liked the idea of automation - we consider robots to provide the appropriate environment for high yielding Holsteins to exploit their potential,” he explains. “Taking advice, visiting farms with different systems and aware that Lely Center Devon & Cornwall provided backup service second to none, we eventually agreed the project which took five years from inception to completion.” He adds: “When we reach 350 cows we’ll be flying. In the meantime, we aim to get the best out of the Lely technology to help drive forward performance and efficiency.”