“When we talk about labour savings, what we really mean is the flexibility automating tasks has brought to our days.”
With eight Lely products on farm, automating the milking, scraping and feeding has provided huge labour savings for Dave Waterman, and created more flexibility for him to individually manage cows.
- Weeke Farm, nr Tiverton, Devon
- 2 x A4 robot, 1 x A5 robot, 1 x Juno, 1 x Discovery, 1 x Collector, 2 x Luna
- 220 acres
- 3.2 average milkings per cow
- Yield average: cows 38kg & heifers 31kg per cow
- 400 Holstein Friesian / 180 milking
- Calving all year round
- Average somatic cell count, 100 and Bactoscan, 8
Dave, who used to manage a farm near Taunton, bought his own farm in 2011 and started milking via two Lely Astronaut A4 robots in a newly built shed in June 2012. The initial 60 locally bought cows has now grown to a herd of 180 and an additional shed with a new A5 robot was added in 2022. The original slatted A4 shed is cleaned by a Discovery and a Juno feed pusher operates every 2 hours. The cows also have access to two Luna cow brushes. The new A5 shed has partially solid floors so Dave added a Collector manure robot to this barn. The cows are producing an average of 38kg of milk per day with the heifers averaging 31kg milk with an average of 3.2 milkings per cow per day.
“We have automated almost our entire dairy operation which has reduced labour significantly and created more flexibility in our working day”.
Automating feeding, cleaning and milking has not only created a labour-efficient working environment, but it has optimised cow health and welfare, with just two fulltime people employed at the farm. The resulting flexibility in the day has allowed Dave to treat the cows as individuals and make decisions on a cow per cow basis “Being able to treat them individually is a unique selling point for a robot, in my opinion. They can be milked as naturally as they can be because they’re milked when they want, and you can treat them as individuals, by brushing and milking per quarter for example. You can’t do this in a parlour. This all feeds back into the health and longevity of the cow, doesn’t it?”
Through automation, Dave and herdsman Charlie both have a more manageable working week. They are still busy and working 10–12-hour days but they feel they now have the flexibility to achieve more tasks safe in the knowledge that the cows are being milked, fed and kept clean with minimal interaction from them.
“When we talk about labour savings, what we really mean is the flexibility automating tasks has brought to our days. One of the big things with robots is the positive impact they have on family time; we’re more or less a family farm and they give me flexibility for days out with my young children which is a definite attraction of automation,” explains Dave.
With over 400 cows onsite in total, the 180 strong dairy herd takes Dave and Charlie less than 15 minutes each morning to set up for the day. “The milking cows are the most efficient part of what we’re doing. A lot of our time goes on calves, young stock, drying off cows and bedding up, with only 15 minutes a day is spent cleaning the robots and doing our daily checks.
The longevity and health of the herd speaks for itself. I have one cow in her 11th lactation who has produced 110 ton of milk to date and is still going strong. The whole operation, which includes the Juno feed pusher, the Discovery in the top barn and the Collector in the new shed really has given me so much flexibility. With just the assistance of my herdsman Charlie, we are able to get all the work in the dairy sheds finished by 7.45am.
Take the Juno, it’s programmed to push feed up every 2 hours. This is a job that simply wouldn’t get done without it. In the new shed, which the Juno doesn’t yet service, we push the feed up once a day – it’s a noticeable difference,” says Dave.
Dave has been impressed by the data available through the robots, and via the Lely Horizon data management programme, which has enabled him to make more informed decisions on an individual cow basis. Horizon also enables him to pre-empt problems and treat animals quickly before they get clinical signs of sickness. Dave particularly finds the rumination report helpful as tracking rumination rates helps him get an idea of whether a cow is recovering well post-calving; a drop in rumination and activity suggests a cow is sick and flags her up for closer assessment.
“The information we are now able to access is crazy. We can help individual cows before things become a problem, you can see that something is wrong and immediately treat them. In the parlour we didn’t have that level of information and an unwell cow would have carried on going downhill. Nowadays with the robots and Horizon, we correct the problem via early intervention,” explains Dave.
“All the barn products (Juno, Discovery & Collector) just get on and do their jobs multiple times a day meaning we don’t have to worry about scraping out or pushing feed. The barn floors are noticeably clean and visitors to the farm always comment on how clean the cows are. Cell count, Bactoscan and mastitis cases are all low (SCC is running around a hundred, Bactoscan is 8, mastitis is around one case a month).
“We always use Lely chemicals, which are very good I find. We have salesman dropping into the farm all the time trying to get us to buy alternative chemicals, but I have never changed from Lely; I always think that if things are going well and you’ve got Bactoscan results like we have, then why change?”
Dave, who upgraded to a Juno Flex model in 2019, believes that during the downtime involved in the switch from the old Juno to a new model, he lost a kilo of milk per cow on average which he feels proves its worth from a productivity angle, not just a labour saving one.
When asked what advice he would give to a farmer considering Lely, Dave tells us,
“I don’t think I would need to sell the set-up to a new farmer as I would simply let them come out to my farm and look at the cows. If they watch the cows and how they behave, and look at yield, health and longevity of cows and robots, the results will speak for themselves. The evidence is all here to see. If you see a setup like this, you see healthy, happy cows. You’ve got good milk yield. We have a good work life balance, and I can get off farm.
“I also have two A4 robots which have been working nonstop for over 11 years now, doing over 750,000 milkings each; they have totally proven their worth now. What’s not to like really?”
* The results mentioned are specific to this farm; calculated data will vary depending on specific installation conditions.