Robotic Grazing

Combining grazing with robotic milking can work well, it just needs careful planning.

Addi Kidson, Lely Atlantic

More and more farmers are finding this is a cost-efficient route forward for producers who have good grazing animals and grow good grass.  With feed and fertiliser prices continuing to rise, it’s vital that dairy farmers explore every opportunity to increase productivity and make the most of home-grown resources.

It’s long been recognised that well-managed grass leys offer the most cost-effective feed for dairy and beef animals, but many have felt it’s impossible to implement a robotic milking system within this system.

This is not the case, and Lely Atlantic has proven time and time again that it’s possible to combine the benefits of automated milking with the Lely Astronaut with high intakes of grazed forage.  All that’s needed is a robust plan and some forward thinking.

Central to any automated milking system is the concept of free cow traffic.  This means that cows have a free choice as to when to visit the robot for milking.  In a housed system cows are motivated to visit the robot by concentrates or cake delivered in the Astronaut.  With a grazing system the motivation is access to fresh grass… so it’s vital to get this right.

A well-planned strategy comes first, with Lely suggesting dividing the farm’s grazing into two or three blocks.  With two blocks the cows can be offered fresh grazing every 12 hours, with three blocks it’s every eight hours.  Which system you chose will depend on the layout of your farm.

Ideally the paddocks should be roughly equal in size and shape, but this isn’t always possible.  Paddocks need to be easily accessible by well-maintained cow tracks, a good reason for sitting down with a Lely Farm Management Support member to see which system will suit your individual needs and farm type.

The Lely Grazeway, a selection gate, is an essential tool within this approach.  It’s user-friendly and offers a stress-free experience for the herd.  Cows are able to choose whether they want to go out to pasture or come in to be milked.  The Grazeway determines whether she can go out to grass, or whether she needs to be milked first.

The cow will then be routed to the appropriate grazing block, according to the time of day.  The Grazeway uses the same double gates as the Astronaut and when a cow is milked before the gate is due to change to another paddock, she’ll be routed back to the same paddock.

There are many benefits of combining grazing with robotic milking:

  • The system allows you to make optimal use of grazed grass.  When well-managed grazed grass is generally considered to be the best value feed source for cows;
  • With labour becoming more difficult to source, grazing systems are growing in popularity and robots can be a great forward-thinking option;
  • The wealth of data collected by the Lely Horizon management platform (used in conjunction with the Grazeway and Astronaut) helps you to make the best decisions about feed and grazing.