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Tom & Ed Rowland

Lely milking - exploiting yield potential, naturally

If you are pushing for yield and breeding cows yielding well over the 12,000 litre mark, then robotic milking systems will provide a solution to enable these high genetic cows to achieve their true potential in a high welfare, low labour system. We visited Cheshire producers, Ed Rowland and his parents, Tom and Ruth who milk a 200-cow pedigree Holstein herd currently averaging 12,500kg and a commendable five lactations. The partners took advantage of Defra’s previous grant scheme replacing three Lely A3 milking robots with four Lely A5s.

Ed Rowland considered returning to reinstalling a parlour when he had to face the fact his three, 11-year-old Lely A3s were both stretched to the limits and needed upgrading.

“We looked at the options, but it didn’t take very long for me to make up my mind. The benefits of robots over a parlour were very evident,” he explains. “Our long-term strategy has been to breed for yield and longevity, we’re pleased with the outcome and our milking robots have certainly helped us to get there. The herd which is in the breed’s top 10% for Lifetime Daily Yield is currently averaging 3.5 visits to the robot, we have 88 cows making between 3.5 and five visits, our top cows are producing 17,000 to 19,000kg in 305 days, whilst we are currently milking 12 cows that have recorded lifetime yields over 100,000kg.

“For starters, milking in a herringbone would have involved far too much moving and waiting time in a day, never mind finding additional reliable and trained local labour which was already a challenge for twice a day milking back in 2009, before we initially invested in Lely robots. With 200 cows, we would have been tied up for at least three hours, three times a day, whereas nowadays, dad and I are able to manage the cows and youngstock with just one full time employee, Dean Jones whilst Mum focuses on calf rearing.

“Equally important, frequent robot milking also removes udder pressure and also spreads concentrate allocation more evenly throughout the day,” Ed explains.

The Rowlands are born stockmen; they are dedicated to working amongst their cows, however they admit it’s the milking robots that provide the ultimate attention to detail. “The cows are making their own decisions when to eat, drink, relax or be milked which makes for a really quiet temperament; they’re healthy and stress free which we believe contributes to more milk in the tank,” he says. “And however good our stockmanship, the robots provide that consistent management 24/7. For example, we can depend on each quarter being individually and fully milked out at every visit.

“We also like the T4C software programme; it’s a useful tool throwing up potential health issues before they actually manifest themselves so we can get on the case before they progress.”

He adds: “Going forward if we are to continue our current breeding strategy in order to farm a sustainable and profitable high welfare enterprise, then I believe that a robotic milking system is the only way to go.”

Farm fact file

  • 250 acres, owner occupied
  • tenanted mix
  • 200 cow pedigree Holstein herd
  • plus follows
  • 12,500 litres, 3.96% butterfat, 3.2%
  • protein rolling average
  • 20.17kg/day Lifetime Daily Yield
  • (national average 11.27kg/day)
  • 15% replacement rate