Our recent trip to the Netherlands had many highlights, including four immaculately presented robotic farms, and a grand tour of the Lely factory.

Our recent trip to the Netherlands had many highlights, including four immaculately presented robotic farms, and a grand tour of the Lely factory.

Day 1:

First stop was the Van Dorp family dairy. This farm started robotic milking in 2011 to save labour and to allow them to develop their agricultural building contracting business. They currently use 4 Lely A4 Astronauts.

The Van Dorps are milking 240 cows averaging 34 litres per at 2.7 visits per day. Fat and protein are running at 4.25% and 3.5% with a cell count of 160 over the herd.

The barn was designed and built by the family, aside from the astronauts the barn incorporates a Lely Juno feed pusher, three Lely Discovery 90 SW’s, five Lely Luna’s, a Lely Calm and much more.

Land price and availability is one of the key challenges the Netherlands. Due to land prices in the Netherlands the family thought purchasing land wasn’t a good investment so due to their current small land base they have to purchase 60% of all the feed required for the unit.

Automation has allowed the Van Dorrps to optimize their dairy herd and currently one person can manage the entire barn. 

At the next farm we were greeted by Yvonne Oostdam who with her husband Jorden milk 125 cows through two Lely A5’s. Alongside the dairy operation, Yvonne and Jorden run a land management consultancy business and are involved in committee work. The family started robotic milking in 2008 with the Lely A3, however recently due to expansion of dairy and grassland operations a new greenhouse shed suitable for 150 dairy cattle has been erected. This has enabled milk production to double without the need for additional labour. Like all the units, we visited in the Netherlands the building was on slats to help with manure management. They bed down with dried horse manure mixed with shavings from a local stables and maintain cell count of 150 throughout the herd.

The herd currently average 30 litres per cow on 2.9 visits and a fat and protein content of 4.5% & 3.5%. The Oostdam family are working towards their target of 2000kg of milk per robot per day.

After a refreshing lunch we headed to our third farm of the day- Aantjes Bonrepas ran by the Aantjes family. The family run business first introduced robotics in December 2011. Since then there are 116 cows milking on two Lely A4 robots while being fed by the Lely Vector feeding system. The barn also has an impressive office and meeting area used for educational talks. Currently the herd is averaging 29 litres a cow with fat at 4.38% and protein at 3.6%.

Due to Phosphorous constraints in the Netherlands because of the high risk of run off into watercourses, a significant amount of farmers have to export manure. This means that in some cases some farmers have to export 30% of the manure they produce because they have not got a sufficient land mass to spread it over. The cost of this is around £9 per tonne. This is another challenge Dutch farmers have to face.

Robotics and particularly the Vector system has allowed the Aantjes family flexibility and with Lely’s T4C management system, they can gauge a clear overview and gain immediate production indicators for their cows from anywhere in the world.

After a day of farm tours, we were treated to dinner in the Euro mast observation tower which was built in 1960 and was once the tallest building in Rotterdam.

Day 2:

The next morning we visited the Lely Campus in Maassluis. The new campus was opened in 2014 and spreads over ten hectares. It is recognized as one of the most sustainable business premises in Europe.

An informative talk about Lely lead onto a tour of the factory floor with an explanation into how adopting lean principles has reduced production lead times by 50%. From Astronaut assembly and testing to Vector, Juno and Discovery builds, we saw how Lely work efficiently resulting in 20 Astronauts a day being manufactured.

The last farm visit of the trip really pulled out all the stops! Farm Keijzer ran by Dirk Keijzer and his wife Els was built in 2016 after they had to relocate their farm due to urban growth. Their new barn design is based on the principles of short walking routes so that there is a good overview, focus and control over groups. The barn has space for 200 cows with 120 currently milking on three Lely A5 robots. Again, this shows the effect phosphate quotas have had on the Dutch agricultural industry however the Keijzer family are looking to grow the land area for their farm to allow them to reach full productivity.

The milking herd are averaging 34kg per cow at 3.2 visits with a cell count of 102. Butterfat is rolling at 4.38% with protein averaging 3.38%. The Keijzer’s also have the Cow Locator system installed, which allows them to locate a cow from anywhere in the barn. When asked about the Locator system the couple said its saves them time and money, they use it every day and would not want to manage cows without it.

Their barn had a dry cow and calving area behind the robots linked via separation. They feed a significant amount of concentrates to the dry cows through their Cozmix feeder and this fitted in with their ethos of treating every cow as an individual throughout the production cycle.

It was a very beneficial trip to all who attended having seen some world-class dairy systems. We hope it allowed them to take home new ideas and solutions for their farms in the future.