Milking robots: delivering RoI + enhancing business resilience
“You have to spend money to save money,” says Andrew Griffiths who is commited to building a profitable farming business, resilient to whatever comes down the track. Furthermore, self-sufficiency is key; the unit’s water supply has already been established, whilst the next project features power with plans to install solar panels.
His 400-cow commercial Holstein unit based at Bulls Green Farm, near Nantwich evolves around automation – six A5 robotic milking systems and one Vector robotic feeding system. “I like technology, it’s the way forward, the benefits soon add up to the extent they’ve covered the milking robots’ investment cost within seven years.
“Apart from cost savings and solving potential labour issues, since introducing the milking robots in 2013 we’ve been able improve overall herd performance. We would not be milking cows if we had to go back to operating in a parlour. Equally important, investing in automation has introduced flexibility. I’m able to spend more time with our young children now aged 11 and seven years.”
Labour: milking used to take 12 hours a day and we had a good team of six plus part timers, whereas nowadays myself, herd manager Dave Hastings and two-part time staff manage the entire operation including DIY AI. Working days have been reduced for both of us to a reasonable eight to 12 hours and we’ve a lot more time to spend on other jobs, for example we’ve moved from contractors to doing the majority of our own field work including multi-cut silage and reseeding.
Management and herd health: we have become better herd managers since we are seeing the cows more often than when we were putting on cups in the parlour. The person managing the beds knocks up every single cow whilst first thing every morning, Dave spends 15 minutes logging on to Lely’s software programme to check the health report, udder health and heat detection for each herd member; any issues are immediately flagged up and we’re able to instantly respond. We no longer have to wait for any visual signs or the monthly NMR report.
We rarely have a ketosis case, annual mastitis incidence has been reduced by over 15%, selective dry cow therapy has replaced blanket treatment and fertility has significantly improved.
Welfare: the cows now have the opportunity to make their own decisions – when to milk, eat and relax. We have a lot of visitors and they all remark how unbelievably chilled the cows are. Their behaviour impacts on myself and Dave leaving us with clearer heads to make decisions – both technical and business.
Bulls Green, parlour v robot
|Herringbone Parlour||6 x A5 Robots|
|Labour||Six full time + night milkers||Two full time + two part time|
|Yield (kg/lactation)||10,000 (3 x a day)||11,000 (3.3 visits)|