Center support key in successful transition to automation.
- Start-up date: 7th December 2021
- Milked through 3 x A5 robots
- 350 acres at home farm plus 150 acres arable
- 210 Holstein Friesians / 165 milking at any time
- Calving all year round
- Yield increased by 40% - from 22 litres to 30 litres per cow
- 3.1 average milking visits per cow
- Average somatic cell count reduced from 220 to 150
- 1 x Lely Collector slurry robot
Supportive, knowledgeable, and patient Lely Center staff made the transition from parlour to robotic milking a smooth one for farmers Ed and Merry George. Ed and daughter Merry farm a 210-cow dairy herd near Buckland Brewer in North Devon and made the successful change from a traditional herringbone milking parlour to a modern 3-robot Lely milking system in December 2021.
The decision-making process
A shortage of reliable labour and a grant opening at just the right time made the decision to switch to Lely Astronaut robots an easy one. The family and their staff were spending more of the farming day inside a parlour than outside of it, which meant that their day was skewed towards always clock watching and milking. Recognising that something had to change, and with their 20-year-old parlour reaching the end of its life, along with parts becoming impossible to source, the George’s started looking into automation.
Productivity and Cow Welfare
Yield has increased by an impressive 40% with cows averaging 30litres per cow compared to 22 litres in the parlour. Productivity has also improved with cows visiting the robot on average 3.1 times within a 24hour period.
Since starting the robots cow health has noticeably improved. SCC rate has reduced from 220 to 150, mastitis is better as the cows are not being overmilked as they were in the parlour and hoof health has improved as they are not standing around waiting to be milked. Foot health may also have improved due to the installation of the Lely Collector manure robot meaning that the passages are noticeably cleaner. Merry feels that the cows are also much calmer and more content now.
Ed finds the Horizon management programme a good source of pertinent information telling us “I can work the cows with more knowledge due to the information the robots and the Horizon programme provide. It just means that you know what’s going on and you can see what needs doing – it’s a useful management overview.”
Merry and Ed attribute much of their success to the support received from the Farm Management Support (FMS) team pre and post start-up and the ongoing expertise of the engineers during installation, start-up and beyond - but - both told us that none of it would have been possible without the knowledge and support at the very beginning from Project Coordinator Gary. The George’s and Gary worked together for many months revising plans and redrawing the barn layout before they all agreed on the current layout. Merry told us that “Gary was so patient; he took our ideas on board when appropriate but was not afraid to veto our suggestions too and now that we are up and running, we can both really see why he said ‘no’ to some of our plans. His design and coordination throughout have really been brought to life and the whole project works because of this initial input from him”
The fact that any visiting engineers take the time to train Merry and Ed to help them keep their robots running smoothly is also appreciated by the father / daughter duo. Ed in particular enjoys tinkering with the robots and understanding how they work so the tips from the engineers are welcomed by him with Merry adding,
“Alan and Dan in particular are so helpful if we phone with an issue, if they can’t sort it on the phone, they are always ready to jump in the van no matter what time of day or night it is. They are also good at teaching us how to fix things and showing us little tips to help us in the long-term. The engineers are all amazing! So calm, never flustered and never make me feel like I’ve asked a stupid question.”
The Farm Management Support team were also integral to the smooth transition from parlour to automation before, during and after start-up; so much so that Merry feels that “the start-up week was much easier than I expected! I was tired at the end of the week, but it went really well actually. I think Merryn and Bas were very good beforehand at managing our expectations of what start-up would be like, therefore it wasn’t daunting, and we knew what to expect and the whole FMS team were with us every step of the way with hands-on help or advise.”
Merry added that having a feed expert (Merryn) and a vet (Wendy) on the FMS team is a huge plus for both customer’s and Lely Center, with Wendy recently helping with a mastitis outbreak and bringing it under control by making a few tweaks in Horizon and turning on the USA cleaning option. Ed added that Bas’s extensive FMS experience has also proved to be invaluable, “the whole team are so reassuring and knowledgeable”
It’s not just the cows who are benefiting from the installation of the milking robots and the manure collector; Merry and Ed both agree that the flexibility the robots have brought to the daily routine has been overwhelmingly positive. Merry told us that she is enjoying the freedom the robots have given her allowing her to be able to leave the farm for an afternoon without having to rush back for afternoon milking, seven months in and the novelty of not having to clock watch still hasn’t worn off.
Ed agrees that the flexibility provided by not having to milk or scrape out the passages has been a gamechanger for the farm. He, like other customers, feels that whilst he is still as busy, his day is not rigidly planned out for him by parlour times. The flexibility to do jobs when / as they come up is something he is really enjoying. The robots and the lack of twice a day parlour milking also means that jobs like silaging can completed without interruption.
“Life is much easier with the robots, both the Astronaut milking robots and the Collector” Merry confirmed, “Just look at how clean the barn floor is, the Collector is brilliant, it just doesn't stop working! And we wouldn’t be without the milking robots now, 7 months into our new set-up and we are so glad we installed the robots. Cows’ health, milk yield and human happiness linked to more time and flexibility in the day has all increased. We would not want to go back to our old way of working!”
Merry thinks that the advantages of using a Lely Astronaut robotic milking system include:
- More flexible way of running the herd
- Improved time management – allows her time off the farm without clock watching
- Cows like the robots and are very calm
- It treats cows individually (i.e., can alter pulsation to suit individual cow)
- The Lely management system provides a wealth of information
- Has increased yield and productivity
- Improved foot health due to not standing in collecting yard
Advantages of the Lely Collector:
- Works 24/7
- Noticeable improvement in foot health
- Beds much cleaner
- Cows perfectly calm and move out its way when they see it
- Taken a job off the list of daily tasks
- Really noticeable if it is out of action
- Merry is considering adding a 2nd Collector to the barn
Installing Astronaut A5 robots has improved cow health, increased yield and productivity and improved the work / life balance of Ed and Merry who both have more flexibility in their day-to-day life. Cleaner barns, a drop in cell count and fewer cases of mastitis are also dual benefits from the installation of the Astronauts and the Collector manure robots.
“Put simply, I would miss them if they were taken out” concludes Ed.