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Combining automatic milking with grazing
Mac Findlay says the future of the family’s 120 cow dairy enterprise depended on its decision to invest in a robotic milking system with the continued ability to graze. “Dad and myself had battled for years over swapping our herringbone parlour for robots; and it came down to being a case of I’d stay on the farm, if we were prepared to embrace technology. We finally did, and we’d now say it's the best things that’s happened on this farm.”
Towards the end of 2020, Mac and his father, John who milk a purebred Normande herd near Penrith, Cumbria installed two A5 robotic milking systems in to existing accommodation. They also invested in a Grazeway selection box, a double gate system installed at the exit point of the barn where the cows go to pasture enabling them to choose for themselves if and when they want to go out to graze.
“Two big tickets finalised the decision - the massive level of support from the Lely Center Longtown team during our three-year journey from initially exploring the robot concept to switching on, plus the fact Lely provided us with the opportunity to keep on grazing - with Grazeway.
“Our cows, believed to make up the only purebred Normande herd in the UK, are natural, aggressive grazers; it’s what they’re best at and we were taking almost 50% of their average 6,700 litres from grazed grass,” Mac explains. “Also, one of the first questions we were asked by First Milk when we were exploring signing up was ‘do you graze?’.”
Meanwhile the Findlays are watching herd performance continuing to improve. “Within three months of installing the milking robots, we’ve seen yield lift by 12% and we believe there’s potential for another 5%, and all without compromising milk solids which have continued at 4.8% butterfat and 3.5% protein. We’ve also maintained fertility; conception to first service continues at 61%.”
The robots have also introduced labour savings. “Whilst our herd manager of 30 years, Ivan Nixon works a 12-hour day continuing to look after the herd’s day to day management, we’ve been able to take one person out of the operation. I spend a similar amount of time checking the system’s T4C software programme for heat insemination, udder health and health attention whilst having more time to manage the calves and youngstock and my 150 ewe Lleyn sheep enterprise.
Mac adds: “Technology is there to be embraced; it’s helping to keep the small family farm in business and that’s what I believe British agriculture to be all about whilst for me I’m the sixth generation to farm dairy cows which have been here on this unit for over 150 years; it’s a great feeling to be able to keep improving performance, health and welfare, and the robots are helping us to continually go uphill. We’re very happy with our decision.”