Russell Hayman farms a 180-cow dairy herd outside Honiton in Devon and made the successful transition from a traditional herringbone milking parlour to a modern 3-robot Lely milking system in 2018.
- 600 acres
- Calve all year round
- 180 cows / 150 milking at any time
- Yield increase from 8,000 to 10,000
- 3 x Lely A4 robots laid out in check out style, with a Lely Grazeway on exit to select the cows for the footbath, separation pen or back to the cubicle buildings.
When Russell Hayman’s old Herringbone parlour needed replacing in 2014, investigating robotic options allowed him to envisage a way to keep the farm moving forward rather than “just treading water”. It would have been easy to have patched up the parlour, but Russell didn’t feel any enjoyment in milking via a parlour anymore; add in the issue of finding reliable labour, also the fact that Russell and his wife weren’t getting any younger, and the need for serious investigation into robotic options was born.
The decision-making process
After a four-year decision-making process, Russell decided in 2018 that moving to a robotic milking system was definitely the right step for the future of the farm. After intensive research, the decision to automate was reached and the choice of which brand of robot came down to 3 companies. Ultimately, the fact that Lely is a market leader swung the decision in favour of Lely Center Devon & Cornwall.
“I was reassured by the fact that my neighbouring farms had chosen Lely, that, plus the acknowledged great back-up from the Lely Center Devon & Cornwall team of engineers, gave me the confidence to invest in three A4 Astronaut robots”.
The original plan had been to build a new barn, but the uncertainty of leaving the EU put a stop to these plans so Russell, in conjunction with Lely Devon & Cornwall Project Coordinator Gary, had to make the existing shed work. A check-out style of installation was agreed upon as this worked with the existing set-up and in spring 2018, the 3 robots were installed.
The normal ‘training period’ with the cows getting used to the robots wasn’t possible for this installation, so the cows went straight into the robots for milking which Russell describes as an “interesting experience”. Russell remembers that the first 2 weeks were difficult as both cows and humans adjusted to a new system but by the end of the first month, things were much more comfortable.
Productivity and Cow Welfare
Russell’s cows have always been quiet, but he did notice a change in behaviour across his herd. By May, the cows would normally be heading out to graze, but they were content and happy to remain in the barn and weren’t looking to go outside.
“The whole herd is very content, and you can see that from how freely they come and go from the robot.”
After initially budgeting for a 10-15% increase in yield after switching to automatic milking, 18 months after start-up and yield had increased by 25% up from 8,000 to 10,000 from 3 milkings a day.
Mr Hayman purchased the 3 robots via a grant which was conditional on rumination information. Whilst he would not have originally chosen to have rumination data, he now finds it a really useful tool. It provides him with an early indication when a cow’s health is on the decline, which in turn allows him to look into health issues such as mastitis ahead of time.
Being freed up from twice daily parlour milking has allowed Russell to be around the cows more meaning he has got to know them better which in turn has allowed him to spot early signs of any issues. The working day is still as busy, but work has been redistributed and the day can start and finish at more family friendly times as the day is no longer being ruled by milking times.
As far as Mr Hayman is concerned, the advantages of using a robotic milking system include:
- More flexible way of running the herd
- Improved time management
- Cows like it and are very content
- It treats cows individually (i.e., can alter pulsation to suit individual cow)
- The Lely management system provides a wealth of information
- Has positively altered cow behaviour
Asked what advice he would give to a fellow farmer considering robotic milking, and Mr Hayman suggests looking at the level of back-up support provided by the company.
“Running robots all day and night means that you do need good back-up and Lely Center Devon & Cornwall provide great support with its 24/7 operation. The engineers are very good, they always answer my calls and can handle most issues over the phone avoiding the need for a visit. I also appreciate how, if they are on farm, they take the time to show me the issue and how they have fixed it” explains Russell.
In conclusion, Russell states, “installing the robots has enabled me to move the farm on rather than it just treading water. I wouldn’t go back to a parlour.”