“The Lely Grazeway has given us the flexibility to combine robotic milking on two Lely Astronaut A5 robots with grazing for six months of the year. Whilst outside grazing, the herd is averaging up to 34 litres from 2.5 milkings per day; pre-robots we would average around 25 litres.”*
“It is important to us to see our cows outside grazing and displaying their natural behaviours" say James & Richard Voysey, who farm 330 acres (mostly rented) at Colcombe Abbey Farm in East Devon. The Voysey's recently invested in two Lely A5 milking robots and a Grazeway cow box system for their 109-cow herd allowing the cows the freedom to choose when to be milked and when to go out to graze.
The grazing system is divided into AB grazing blocks; the cows have access to a fresh block of grass twice daily and there is the option of a buffer feed at the feed fence that goes hand in hand with the A5 robots which were installed in 2019.
“We like the fact that the cows choose for themselves if or when they want to go out to pasture. The cows like it too, the fact that they choose to go outside to graze even in heavy rain speaks for itself really.” Says Richard with James adding “Given the choice, we would definitely install the Grazeway again. The cows are much calmer now with the combination of the robots and the Grazeway; it’s about training the cows to do what we want them to do by offering the correct amount of grass. We divide the grazing area (31 acres) into two, A&B (night and day), with 14 paddocks in each so they have a fresh paddock for day and night each day.”
The brothers are producing and selling more milk with fewer cows with visits to the robots averaging 3.1 during the housed winter period and 2.5 now that they are grazing.
The decision to automate milking was made for the family by the fact that the conventional parlour was 35 years old. Richard tells me that the family needed to do something; either replace the parlour or get out of dairy. They choose robotic milking due to the positive word of mouth testimonials and feedback from other dairy farmers throughout Devon and Cornwall. James and Richard felt reassured that other farmers liked the robots and after numerous visits to farms to see the robots in action, the brothers liked what they saw, especially how calm the cows were and how they choose when to be milked which they felt was a more natural way to work with cows.
“The robots have not only taken the pressure off myself and my brother Richard”, says James, “but their installation helped make the decision to retire an easier one for our Dad. He knew that despite us being a man-down we wouldn’t be under pressure when he retired. The robots have taken the extra strain and introduced a level of flexibility into our days”.
The robots have also taken the pressure off the cows, Richard adds, “they are no longer standing in the collecting yard for two and a half hours twice a day. The cows are doing more useful things - eating, ruminating and making milk. We are actually producing and selling more milk with fewer cows now that the robots are up and running.*”
Whilst James doesn’t think their working day has altered significantly, the brothers now start a little later and can finish earlier if needed. “The real plus is the degree of flexibility the robots have given to our daily schedule as we don’t have to break away from a job or interrupt something to go in for milking. We were able to do the slurrying uninterrupted recently which was very helpful and meant we finished earlier than in previous years freeing us up to do other jobs later in the day”.
Both Richard and James think the support and advice from Lely Center Devon & Cornwall is brilliant. From Wendy in the FMS team who, after consultation with them, urged James and Richard to let all the cows out to graze, advice they are pleased they took despite it being against the recommendations of their vet and feed nutritionist who suggested keeping cows that were giving over 40kgs of milk inside, through to the backup support from the engineering team; Richard and James say the Lely Center can’t be faulted. As Richard says, “there is always someone there 24 hours a day, and that’s really reassuring.”
* The results mentioned are specific to this farm; calculated data will vary depending on specific installation conditions.