Lely Midlands took a group of our customers to Ireland to see how Irish farmers are combining automated milking and grazing systems to make efficient and sustainable dairy production systems.


Ireland is leading the way in using grazing and robotics together, and we wanted to see in person how they make it work and the benefits it has for them and their farms. We visited several farms in County Kilkenny.

Lely Midlands took a group of our customers to Ireland to see how Irish farmers are combining automated milking and grazing systems to make efficient and sustainable dairy production systems.

Ireland is leading the way in using grazing and robotics together, and we wanted to see in person how they make it work and the benefits it has for them and their farms. We visited several farms in County Kilkenny.

Below are details on the farms we visited. One of the things that struck me was aside to the productivity increases farmers talked about the lifestyle benefits which were just as important to them. By automating they didn’t have to be up at dawn, they had more time with their families and joked about living the Lely Life!

B.K’s Dairy Farm
First stop was B.K’s dairy farm. Our host Jordan Molloy is the Farm Management Support advisor for Lely Center Mitchelstown. The land they manage provides a grazing block which is suitable for a maximum of 120 cows. They are currently milking 116 cows in two Lely A4 robots. They are running a spring block calving system on an A-B-C Grazing system. The farms gets around 700ml of rainfall per year so is well suited to growing grass.  The key points and KPI’s are:

6200-6500 Kg milk yield per year at 4.51% fat and 4% protein looking to produce 500 Kg of milk solids per cow per year.

  • Feed no more than 750 Kg of concentrate feed per cow per year.
  • Calve 80% of the grazing herd within the 1st 6 weeks of calving period. 
  • Have all cows calved within 10 weeks Calve cows mid-February onwards and dry off all cows by mid-December. Visits per cow per day between 2.7-2.1 due to cows not producing high yields at peak compared to more intensive systems looking to achieve 10 litres per milking.
  • Average total labour requirement per annum for 120 cows is 14 hours per week. This includes all feeding/paddock management, calving, milking and other tasks. Using Irish EBI breeding index to breed cows suitable for the grazing system.


Jordan has seen a large percentage of grazing systems within Ireland moving from A-B grazing platforms to A-B-C grazing platforms. The key benefits of moving to an A-B-C system over an A-B system are:  A-B-C helps to spread cow flow to the robot throughout the whole 24 hours. This helps with robot capacity when the herd is at peak production in April-May. The gate splits at B.K’s Dairy is A Block 2.00am-11am. B Block 11am-6pm and C Block 6pm-2am. A-B-C can allow some cows to skip one of A, B or C blocks per day. This allows cows that have grazed the paddock down to the correct residual not to be penalized when they move to the next block. If they skip a block they are the first access to the newest block which means they get the best quality grass. This means these late animals are not always grazing down the grass of lower quality on every paddock.   To encourage cows to visit the robot at night, A block only allocates 20% of the herds DMI from grazed grass. It is also the block closest to the robot building. This helps to keep cows visiting the robot at night and means the cows are close to the robot building in the morning for robot and herd checks. On average Jordan only has to collect 1 late cow per day on this system. In the spring this is increased because they have to train fresh calved heifers to the system. B block and C block are both of similar sizes and each allocate around 40% of DMI from grazed grass. This system operates on a 28 day rotation with grazing added and taken out according to grass supply. Grass is constantly assessed and most of grass allocation is done by eye using trial and error. Jordan’s key tips for managing this type of grazing system are: Don’t change gate times once you have a routine! Don’t sweep paddocks! If you don’t keep to these rules you will compromise cow flow and cows will get used to being fetched just like in indoor robot systems. Cows soon adapt and behave more like individuals.

Robbie & Philip Walsh's Farm

This farm was a 130 acre beef unit which has now been converted into 125 cow spring block calving dairy unit. The first Lely A4 was installed in March 2017 and the second installed in February 2018. They sell their milk to Glanbia who are one of the largest processors in Ireland. Like most contracts in Ireland this is solids based and not as liquid based as the ones we have within the UK. 

Calving takes place from the last week of January to the 20th of April. To help keep this block tight to make management easier AI services take place for only 6-7 weeks.  

The grazing starts in early February and the rotation around the grazing block is 18-20 days. A top dressing of nitrogen is applied to each paddock after each grazing. Grazing management is a top priority for Robbie and Phillip, with grazing down to the correct residuals essential to help provide quality grass throughout the grazing season. The herd are housed from mid-December onwards with the barren cows and other cows that have fallen out of the spring calving block on the other farm which is currently using a milking parlor still being milked. These are then sold once they have become stale and put on enough body condition.  

Again to help encourage the cows to visit the robots the A block is closely situated to the milking shed. Also water troughs are placed on the cow tracks to help encourage cow flow. The cows have really good hoof health however they are foot bathed once a month to help maintain this. This is essential because the furthest distance from a paddock to the robots is 1 Km.   

A key feature that has significantly helped with staff and time management is the separation area where cows can be automatically diverted to after milking. This facility automatically separates cows which have a high possibility of bulling or have a health attention which has been shown by reduced rumination indication which indicates a metabolic problem. It will also separate cows that have an udder attention.  

Another feature that has also helped with efficiency is the breeding report on T4C. This identifies animals open, PD+ in calf and other pieces of breeding information. This ties into the automatic dry off dates that the T4C software allocate. This also reduces concentrate feed before the dry off date to make for a better transition into the dry period.  Looking to the future the brothers want to ensure every cow completes a 300 day lactation using the T4C program. This will help to lift milk yield per cow which they hope will increase the amount of solids produced per cow.

 

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