15 years ago, the Harvey family who farm near Lanivet in Cornwall, took the plunge and invested in two A3 milking robots.
With changes needing to be made to the farm to secure its future, Fred made the decision that robots were the way forward and fifteen years on they have also added the Juno automatic feeder and the Grazeway system to their barns. “After a lot of research and having seen how the A3 vastly improved on the previous A2 design, I took the plunge and installed the robots. For me, visiting farms with the Astronaut robots in use and seeing the cows so happy whilst coming and going as they pleased, really clinched it for me” said Fred who added that his research had shown him that as far as he was concerned, Lely had the best robots so he knew that he was in safe hands.
Not only has the farms antibiotic usage dropped significantly since the robots arrived, but Fred has found that the cows now have noticeably healthier teat ends, something he attributes to the Astronauts ability to milk per quarter which in turn ensures that there is no overmilking.
Son Jack, who at 18 has finished college and is now farming fulltime alongside Fred, adds that in addition to the health benefits, which includes a reduction in mastitis, the robots enable them to have more flexibility in the day. They both still work as hard, but they aren’t ruled by the clock or have to break away from tasks to milk the cows. “Only last week, Dad and I were spreading slurry all afternoon and we could just get the job done without one of us having to come back to bring the cows into the parlour”.
Whilst at College, Jack had a placement on a farm with a conventional parlour and disliked it intensely. In fact, Jack was emphatic when he told me that “if it wasn’t for the milking robots I wouldn’t be farming and definitely not dairy farming.” Fred agrees, and suggests that whilst you must like cows to be a dairy farmer, the robots mean that you don’t have to like milking cows.
Fred feels that the robots have allowed him to manage his time better; he acknowledges that he works as hard as before the robots arrived because the jobs on the farm still need to be done, but he isn’t tied to the routine of twice daily milking. This is particularly apparent in the afternoons which are now free for other non-milking related jobs. “someone told me that when you have robots you manage your time differently, and they were right. We work just as hard, but we have a better Christmas!” Fred added that they don’t have to get up so early, and they can choose to do things as a family in the evenings, with the robots adding a layer of flexibility to their life.
The fact that a younger generation was coming through, made the decision to automate easier for Fred who knew robotics was the future for Jack and the farm. Casting his mind back to the installation, Fred thinks that it probably took him longer to adapt to the change robots brought to the farm than the cows!
The robots were installed in an existing shed and both Fred and Jack agree that training heifers was, and continues to be, relatively easy. The herd of 110 cows currently yield 9000 litres and average 3.1 visits to the robot each day. Fred and Jack have plans to grow the herd to 150 cows over the next 12 months with 120 / 130 of these milking at any time.
Both Harvey’s agree that the T4C programme is user friendly with Fred particularly liking the phone app version. Assisting decision making by flagging bulling, milk drops, or mastitis is one of the advantages of the programme with Fred explaining that he was one of the UK farmers used by Lely for feedback on the original programme. When a cow is being miked, the systems MQC (Milk Quality Control) function provides Fred and Jack with comprehensive analysis and gives them accurate information per quarter of milk flow which allows for early detection of infections.
Whilst showing me the data recorded on the T4C system, Fred pulled up the records of cow #196 who has recorded 100,695 litres of milk production, and it is this record keeping which Fred finds such an invaluable resource of the Astronaut and T4C combination.
The Juno, a more recent addition to the farm, has also brought benefits to both the herd and Fred and Jack. Jack has noticed that the cows like the Juno because they associate feed with the beeps and once they hear it doing its rounds, they move to the feed fence. The Harvey’s have programmed the Juno to push feed every 1.5 hours with Fred confirming that it handles grass and silage equally well.
Jack says that they would both “really miss the Juno if it went away” with Fred adding that whilst they haven’t noticed an increase in yield since installing it, there is a noticeable decrease in yield if the Juno is out of action and they both agree that freeing up the labour required to regularly push feed has been beneficial to both of them.
Jack tells me that both his parents tried to put him off faming, and if his father hadn’t installed the robots, they might have succeeded. But the future of the family farm is now safe in his hands. Fred adds that “a while ago I got nostalgic for milking in a parlour, but when I was looking at a cows hoof the other day, her tail whipped me in the eye and I remembered how often that happened in the parlour, and how much it hurts!” there won’t be a return to parlour milking on this farm they both reiterated!