Providing the freedom to choose: milking robots + grazing combo
Returning from college over a decade ago, Sam Hutchinson says the unit needed a new parlour and amongst the options were milking robots. “They provided the opportunity to improve our lifestyle and offer a lift in milk yield. But we knew we could only consider robots if we could continue to graze. We manage an organic unit supplying OMSCo and our ethos is to graze outside as much as possible which also fits with our sales contract.
“The Grazeway gate system enabled us to implement robotic milking alongside a grazing system, the rest is history, and we installed our Astronaut robots in 2007,” explains Sam who together with his father, Ian, manages a 140 Ayrshire cow herd calving all year round, based near Northallerton, North Yorkshire.
“We restocked with Ayrshires post FMD in 2001 and we’ve found the breed fits well in to our organic system. They’re smaller cows regularly exceeding seven lactations - in fact we currently have 15 cows on eight lactations and more, and producing higher quality milk; the herd is currently averaging 4.2% butterfat, 3.4% protein, and 8,000 litres.
“We turn out in April on to an 80-acre grazing platform which is split in to 10 acre blocks for strip grazing. Depending on the season, 10 acres can be grazed over 10 days. We operate an A, B grazing system, back fence by moving the fence once a day in each block at approximately 12 hour intervals; this helps to maintain cow flow through the robots.
“Ayrshires are good grazers and we find the cows vote with their feet. We very rarely have any collect cows in the morning, whilst we may have a few towards the end of the day. Once they’ve adapted to the routine, it can take a couple of weeks to get in to it at turn out, they then relax and settle down to an average 2.5 visits compared to 2.9 visits during the housing period. It takes around one week to train the newly calved heifers, they soon learn from the rest of the herd.”
The Hutchinsons have laid three-metre wide tracks using concentre sleepers with the furthest paddock being 1,000 metres from the robot shed. A water trough has been installed in each block. Grassland management on their 310-acre unit features a six-year rotation; 20 acres of grazing platform are reseeded each year with a ryegrass clover mix following wholecrop wheat.
Ian says “We do buffer the cows with silage on the season’s shoulders, feeding a few kilos of silage per head late morning and late afternoon before the Grazeway switches to the next paddock. This helps to ease the cows on to a new diet at turnout, drive them around the system when the grass quality is lower and it also keeps milkings per day up”.