Re-establishing a dairy enterprise with an Astronaut A4 and A5

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Located in the townland of Carrowbeg near Eglish in County Tyrone, the 125-cow commercial dairy unit owned by Garnett, Ethel and Gary Liggett, is in close proximity to Lely Center Eglish. Having spent a couple years out of milk production, the Liggett family decided to re-establish the dairy enterprise which is managed alongside a poultry unit.

“The first robot, an A4, was installed in January 2021, and the A5 has been up and running since August 2021,” explained Gary Liggett. Limited labour, reliability, flexibility and lifestyle were all key factors in the family’s decision to invest in robotic technology. “Thanks to the robots we are physically and financially more efficient, and our daily routine allows more time for attention-to-detail. We used to milk 150 cows through a conventional parlour. It was time consuming, taking over four hours a day, and we were averaging 8,800 litres per cow.

“Now we’re milking less cows, and our 305-day average is 12,199kgs per cow at 4.13% butterfat and 3.32% protein. The cows are healthy and content, and fertility has improved. Our calving interval is 365 days, and 75% of the herd is back in-calf within the first 150 days of lactation,” added Gary.

The family are currently milking 101 cows and like to keep the numbers uniform, which is why they calve all year round. “The robots could handle more cows, but we are restricted by cubicle numbers and a lack of feed space. The system is working well, and we have more time to ‘fine tune’ the business. There is more emphasis on herd health and managing cows individually. Lely’s Horizon package offers a wealth of management tools which can be easily accessed on a computer or smart phone.

“I’ve used the T4C software and recently upgraded to the new Horizon application. Both are farmer-friendly, but Horizon takes everything to the next level.”

The Liggett family’s commercial Holstein herd is one of the highest yielding robot herds in NI, and is currently ranked number one for litres per cow per day for producers who are solely reliant on Lely robotic technology to milk all their cows. Lely Center Eglish continuously benchmarks Lely farms as part of the farm management support (FMS) services to help farmers make more informed decisions.

“The cows were purchased from three well-established local herds and adapted well to the new system. The shed isn’t over crowded, and the extra ‘free-time’ availability at the robots enables fresh calvers to find a slot, rather than having to collect them and push them forward to the robots. “Cows are fed according to individual yield at a rate of 0.42kgs per litre. We use one ration in the robot, a 17% protein dairy nut. The TMR ration is formulated to include grass silage and a high energy 24% crude protein dairy blend. We have recently added maize to the TMR ration.”

Dry cow management involves the use of a Lely Cosmix out-of-parlour feeder. The transition period is carefully monitored, with cows introduced to a Bio-Chlor nut around one month prior to calving. “We introduce the Bio-Chlor nut gradually, feeding from 1kgs per head per day, steadily rising to 3kgs. It’s a key constituent of our dry cow management, and helps to avoid problems with negative energy balance and metabolic disorders post calving. Cows calve down with good appetites and reach peak milk yields earlier,” explained Gary.

The robots monitor cow activity and rumination, key factors in identifying cows that are off-form or on heat. The robots work in tandem with the Genus RMS system. Top performing cows are AI’d with sexed semen from proven and genomic bulls, while others are mated with Aberdeen Angus semen. AI bulls currently in use include Spock, Orthild, Glacier and Raffa.