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Ben Grylls farm 140- dairy cow herd in Cornwall averaging at 9200 litres per cow each year. They are currently being milked through Lely A4 Astronauts averaging 3.2 robot visits per cow per day.

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Farm Facts

  • Treworder Farm, Truro.
  • Simon and Maria Grylls, Simon’s brother, Andy, son Ben and daughter-in-law, Morwenna.
  • 150ha (370 acres) farmed, including grass and maize.
  • 140 cows housed all year round.
  • Three way cross: Holstein x British Friesian x Norwegian Red.
  • 9,200 litres per cow per year at 4.75% fat and 3.62% protein.
  • Milked through two Lely A4 Astronauts. Supplying Saputo.
  • Averaging 3.2 robot visits per cow per day.
  • 3,425 litres milk from forage per cow per year.
  • 168,000 cells/ml average bulk somatic cell count.
  • 23 bactoscan.
  • 10 mastitis cases per 100 cows.
  • 369 day calving interval.
  • Rear own replacements and sell beef as stores.
  • Newly installed Bennamann cover on the slurry pit which will allow methane to be collected and used for energy.
  • 100 Texel cross ewes.

 

DECADE WITH ROBOTS OPTIMISES FARM’S POTENTIAL

 

The Grylls believe retrofitting a pair of Lely A4 milking robots a decade ago has allowed them to get the most from land available, whilst benefiting udder health and family time.

Ben Grylls explains: “We’re restricted with how many we can milk as we’re in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. If you’ve got the robots, you can maximise the cows you’ve got with yield.”

Having moved from an eight abreast parlour to the robots, cow numbers have remained consistent at 140 head, but yields have climbed from an average 7,200 litres a cow a year to 9,500 litres. This is largely thanks to increased milking frequency, facilitated by the robots, which means cows are milked an average 3.2 times a day, versus twice a day through the parlour.

The crunch point came in 2014, when the Grylls recognised their 70 year old abreast parlour was in need of an upgrade having been fixed so many times, it was like “Trigger’s Broom.” 

Simon and Maria Grylls also believe twice a day milking was holding back the Truro-based herd’s potential, with cows often dripping milk on the beds. With Ben loving the cows, but less passionate about milking, the robots proved an ideal solution and fitted into the farm’s existing footprint.

 

Retrofit

“The robots were sold as being able to fit our system,” Simon recalls. Maria adds: “And they were worth something it you decided it wasn’t going to work.”

The team at Lely Center Holsworthy pulled together a design that would incorporate the two robots into the existing set-up, whilst maximising cow flow. This involved knocking down an old hay barn and erecting a building to house the robots across the yard to the front of the cubicle shed.

The back of the shed was opened up and an area dug out behind the silage pit so the feeding area could be moved from the front to the rear of the building. The new set-up had no dead-ends with cows able to move around three sides of the shed and through the building. This also created easy access for the diet feeder. Maria says the whole set-up was designed with the cow in mind. “There’s lots of openings so they can get out and there’s no bullying,” she says.

 

Forage utilisation

 

After installing the robots, the family decided housing the cows full-time would build consistency and work better with their limited grazing infrastructure and wet ground. The decision has proved a good one, allowing grass to be cut more efficiently, which has benefited silage quality and forage utilisation. Milk from forage now makes up 37% of production. Grass silage typically analyses 11.5 ME, although last year’s challenging growing season meant the three cuts averaged 10.5 ME at 29% dry matter.

“We think they’re eating less (concentrate) as they’re eating better feed. And there’s more ground for the youngstock,” Simon adds.

The herd now receives a maximum of 10kg a head per day through the robot, down from 12kg when the robots were first installed. The herd is now averaging 0.35kg/litre of concentrates. “Because they had good quality forage, we could cut back the concentrate,” Simon says, adding that this also helps body condition, particularly as British Friesians can have a tendency to get fat.

 

Udder health

Ben believes udder health has also benefited from increased milking frequency. “Because the robot is milking them more, they haven’t got that stress in the udder. That’s really helped us,” Ben explains, adding that fresh cows will visit the robots three to four times a day. “Quarter milking also helps with mastitis and the longevity of the cows.”

 

Milk conductivity figures through the robot can also be used to identify the early signs of mastitis and allow treatment with UdderMint before they go clinical. The herd now averages 10 cases of mastitis per 100 cows. All of this has given the team confidence to stop using antibiotics or sealant at drying off. Now, concentrate levels through the robots are automatically reduced in the two weeks prior to drying off. Cows will then be kept with the milkers for one week, allowing them to settle before moving to the dry cow group.

 

Family time

The Grylls stress that herd management is still critical on the robots, and it’s particularly worthwhile putting in the effort to train the heifers to the system. However, the ability to automate milking has created better work life balance, particularly for Ben who has three children: Joshua, eight; Harley, six and Sophia, two.

definitely gets us finished up earlier in the evenings,” he says. “And I can take the boys to community football on a Saturday morning and sometimes I can take them to school and pick them up. You can start and finish when you want to.”

All of this means he’s a true Lely convert: “Lely is a good product and it milks the cows well. . . It’s consistent. Our fat and proteins don’t really alter too much,” he says. “If we did it all again, we’d still go with Lely. Lely are the Fendt of the robot world.”

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