Improvement in milk yields while simultaneously reducing feed rates
Mark Lovatt, Oak Lodge Farm, Stoney Stanton, Leicester
“The robots give you valuable information and allow you to use your hours in a more proactive way; analysing health and production trends.”
X4 Lely A5 Astronauts
X4 Lely Discovery 120 Collectors
Meticulous forage management is helping Mark Lovatt achieve exceptional milk yields of 42.6 litres a cow/day from Lely robots while feeding a low total crude protein ration of 15%. His 180-head Holstein herd is averaging 14.6 litres daily from forage and is achieving high dry matter intakes of 27.2kg of dry matter (DM) daily with a Feed Conversion Efficiency of 1.57. Mark attributes this success to an unwavering focus on quality forage in and out of the clamp.
Three of his Lely A5 robots were originally retrofitted into older buildings at the farm in 2019. Offering plenty of space, grooving concrete floors and improving the lighting and ventilation of sheds by installing LED lights and CMP fans has optimised cow comfort and helped increase the number of visits to 3.5 daily, on average.
“When we changed to robots, I did a lot of work on the buildings. We removed old indoor feed bunks to improve passage space and added on a canopy to give cows outdoor loafing area,” adds Mark. Cows are housed in cubicles with mattresses topped with sawdust and stocking rates are kept to 88% to improve lying times and give freshly calved heifers plenty of room when they are introduced to the milking herd.
“I didn’t get the robots to save time, for me, it is about getting information early. It is all about the cow. Using the app, you can keep an eye on things 24/7.,” says Mark, who adds he wanted to automise farm work to reduce human interference and ‘let the cows be cows’.
“My objective is to make the environment comfortable, so the cows are as happy as they can be; it is all about reducing stress on the cows which is the ethos of milking cows robotically.” Four Discovery robots have helped improve cleanliness and udder health with somatic cell counts averaging 99,000 cells/ml and bactoscan under 10.
The slurry is dumped by the Discovery robots into areas within the shed and drains through channels through weirs to the collection pit. A slurry separator is used to produce a liquid portion – used on grassland and wheat – and solid fraction – used on arable crops.
Last year, soya was removed from the ration. This has been replaced with more protected rape alongside amino acids lysine and methionine. Mark operates a multi-cut silage system with grass cut every five weeks. Three-year perennial grass leys are grown in rotation with arable land. Two cuts of similar quality are clamped together to improve the consistency of the diet for longer periods. Last year, first and second cut averaged 16% protein and 12.1 ME.
The dairy ration comprises 27kg of maize, 16kg of grass silage, 5.25kg of blend (protected rape, rape meal, wheat distillers and ground maize) alongside yeasts, straw, fats, and amino acids.
“Diets are recalculated daily. If cows haven’t eaten it, we will hold them or cut it back or if they have eaten it all we will increase it,” says Mark. Cows are fed a 17% high-energy nut in the robot however Lely’s Feed Optimiser has lowered the amount of concentrate fed inside the robot from 7kg a head a day to 5.25kg a head a day for the same milk.
A fourth robot was added earlier this year to take cow numbers to 220 once heifers have calved down and are in milk. Next on the shopping list is a Lely Juno to automatically push feed up every few hours.
“We are hoping to improve dry matter intakes. Because we farm separate sites it will ensure feed is being pushed up on a regular basis without taking up a man and a machine,” says Mark.
25% decrease in concentrate fed through the robot
Farming 680 acres, mixed farm, owned and tenanted
Milking 180 Holsteins, increasing to 220 cows in milk
Averaging 13,000 litres, 3.95% fat and 3.26% protein
Producing 5,329 litres from forage