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A5’s & Juno introducing major improvements to herd performance & efficiency at Ward farm.

Ward family

“Investing in two Lely Astronaut A5 robotic milking systems and a Juno feed pusher has helped us to increase yield, improve herd health and welfare, and for us, have a life,” says Simon who together with his wife, Alison and son, Ben milk a high output 315 commercial cow commercial herd near Wadebridge, Cornwall.

“In fact, within two months of installing the systems in 2020, we could clearly say the robots are the future. We recorded a 15% yield increase from 3.2 visits per day. Whilst the 105-head averaged 43.8 litres, 52 were newly calved heifers yielding an average 37.4 litres. Milk solids have over the same period remained at 3.76% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Furthermore, cell count fell from SCC 150 to SCC 60, whilst Bactoscan remained stable.”

“Robots have also taken away the human error, they offer consistency, and they keep us informed,” says Ben who manages T4C, the system’s software. “For example, the system tests the milk conductivity from each quarter at every milking consequently mastitis is picked up at the earliest and I’m able to treat accordingly. Whilst for us as a family, we no longer have to live by the clock; the robots are shaving time off every milking and saving us some physical work, for example, milking time has been reduced by approximately nine man hours per day. Overall, the robots have brought an improvement to our lifestyle and some flexibility whilst together with our three staff, relief milker and student, we’re all doing more productive work.”

Until mid-summer 2020, they were milking the entire herd through the herringbone, three times a day and into the night, finishing at 1.30am. “We decided to make the investment decision, having outgrown the old accommodation, however being realistic, we couldn’t make it all in one go with robots sufficient for the entire herd. Consequently, we agreed to build the new shed with 120 cubicles and two milking robots,” Simon explains.

Ben, a Harper Adams University graduate continues: “I spent my placement year getting to grips with robotic systems whilst working with six, Lely A4s on the Dillington Estate, in Somerset; it was great experience with robots and learning how they worked. When it came to our decision back home, it was the back-up provided Lely Center Devon and Cornwall that finalised it, there’s none other service like it.”

The Wards are also reaping the benefits of investing in a Juno feed pusher. Alison explains: “We mix and feed out the TMR once a day, whilst the Juno is programmed to push up feed 22 times during a day whilst periodically returning to the dock to charge up. It definitely keeps the feed fresher which in turn stimulates dry matter intakes, whilst it’s reducing reaching so there is less pressure on each cow’s neck and her front claws.

“The Juno is saving wear and tear of another machine, along with running costs, depreciation and labour. It also minimises wastage to such a degree, nowadays we tidy up the troughs once a week whereas the old system requires us to clean every trough every day and it isn’t the nicest of jobs, and again reduces the labour required.”

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Ten months after installing their two A5 milking robots, a Juno feed pusher and a Discovery 90 slurry robot, we returned to the Ward’s farm to check progress.

Research was vitally important to the family before making the decision to automate and committing to the purchase and installation of the robots. They spent considerable time talking to farmers who already had Lely A5’s as well as visiting farms to see the robots in action. Alison tells me that Gary, Project Co-ordinator at Lely Center Devon & Cornwall, was an invaluable resource of ideas and someone they could bounce barn design and layout options off.

Ben agrees and adds that the whole family are really pleased with the investment and the positive changes the robots have made to the cows and also the family. “At the moment we are milking approximately 100 through the two robots with the rest of the herd in the milking parlour and we rotate cows in and out of the parlour / robot, so all the herd are used to being milked by the robots. It took about 3 weeks for us to initially train the cows and then everyone settled into the routine well.” Ben adds that the cows are noticeably more settled and calmer on the robots due to the freedom of being able to choose when to be milked.

The Discovery 90 manure robot has also positively impacted the smooth running of the new barn and at the time of the visit the barn floors, the cows’ legs and tails were all noticeably clean of muck. Alison confirmed that mastitis has reduced across the robot herd, something she attributed to a combination of the Discovery keeping the floors and beds cleaner and the new cubicle system they installed at the same time as the barn was built.

“Installing the A5s, Juno and Discovery in the new barn has been a positive change for us as a family as the robots have given us more flexibility and shaved huge amounts of time off our daily routines but, as importantly, the cows are happier, cleaner, healthier and more relaxed, something which is very important to us” concluded Ben.

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