Janice and Phil Kitto’s three A5 robots, installed in December 2018, are in Janice’s words, “the best thing we ever did by a million miles, they have just improved our lives so much”.
Since installing the A5’s the herd of 180 pedigree Holsteins are producing 2,000 more litres going from an average of 8,700 litres to 10,500 litres with 3.1 / 3.2 average visits to the robots, a yield increase of almost 20%.
“Whilst the robots haven’t altered our morning routines, they have given us so much more time and flexibility in the afternoons. Rather than milking for over 7 hours a day in our old parlour, we can now go off farm for a few hours if we wish. Before, as we milked quite early at 3pm, it seemed that no sooner had we had lunch, milking time was soon upon us again.” Janice explains.
The family started talking to Lely Devon & Cornwall Sales Specialist Kevin about milking robots in 2011, at first it was Janice who was driving the change with husband Phil undecided. However, by 2018 Janice and Kevin had convinced Phil that robots were the right decision for the farm. Initially the Kitto’s decided to install one A5 robot, which would have meant continuing to use the old parlour alongside the milking robot, but then a government grant came out at just the right time allowing the family to invest in 3 robots, the number required for their herd size, allowing them to completely shut the old parlour.
Pre-installation, Phil was concerned that his old 1968 shed wouldn’t be suitable for the robots, but Project Co-ordinator Gary’s design ensured that a simple modification to the existing set-up - by adding a lean-to to the side of the barn to house two of the three robots, with the 3rd robot in a separate barn with the heifers - minimised any building works required.
“The first month after installation was tough, there’s no getting away from how intense it was. We pushed cows up 24 hours a day for 3 weeks but even through the tiredness of that training period, I never once thought ‘why have we done this’. The robots were the best decision we made for the future of the farm.” says Janice.
Alongside the higher yield and lifestyle improvements the robots have brought to the farm, the depth of data and insight into individual cows Janice and Phil now have has been invaluable at pre-empting issues. Janice especially likes the health reports which flag any problems early and Phil finds the rumination report something he and sons Harvey and Rowan use a lot as it gives a good indication of how a freshly calved cow is doing.
With feed being the most expensive product on the farm, Phil is grateful to the proactive approach from the Lely Center’s Farm Management Support team. Since FMS Merryn and Customer Care Manager Bas suggested switching on the feed optimiser module in T4C, the robots are now using 150 kilos less cake a day saving £1300 / 4.5 tonne of cake a month. Additionally, the data generated has been invaluable with Phil explaining how helpful it is knowing the weight of each cow post calving so they can monitor her health as well as feed intake. “All the data we could ever need is on the computer, generated from the robot, each time FMS visit or call, a few tweaks to the setting generates more reports and valuable information; the FMS visits really are valuable time spent as they help make our record keeping so much easier” explains Phil.
With a £1000 a month reduction in labour costs, the robots using less electricity, a £1300 feed reduction and the increase in milk yield, the robots are more than paying for themselves.
“The robots are great, the time saving and flexibility they have given to us, let alone the financial benefits, are considerable. This is a decision I am very glad we made.” Says Janice.