New House Farm Profile
135 commercial Holsteins
Kevin and Chris Batkin, New House Farm, Marchamley, Shropshire
Yes, grazing can be perfectly combined with automatic milking and the two systems are successfully working for an increasing number of our Lely Center Midlands and Wales customers. Kevin Batkin is amongst them.
Just one grazing season on, and that’s what we’ve achieved - an 18% yield increase whilst getting the balance of grass allocation right; every day is a different day as the growing season changes. Grazing with milking robots is a mindset thing, if you want to do it, you can make it work. And we found we could soon tell when we’d got things right, the cows were keen to come back to the robot.
Faced with decision between a new parlour or automation, then we agreed on two Lely A5 robots when we found we could continue to graze. We wanted to both exploit yield potential and to graze, simply because grazing is something we’ve always done, we believe it’s the way to go, and we already had the main tracks set up.
Maintaining good cow flow to and from the robot is all about offering fresh grazing. We entice them back to the robot for milking after they’ve grazed down their allocated area knowing they’ll be going back out to fresh grass. A Grazeway gate, which provides the necessary control over when each individual cow is milked, is the second bit of essential kit to make the system work.
We agreed an AB and C system. The AB element involved taking our average six-acre fields which we used to standard strip graze, and turning them in to on average two acre paddocks, all of which are accessed by tracks. The Grazeway gate is changed every eight hours - at 2.00am to allow the cows access to paddock A, and from 10.00am to paddock B. We move the fence once within each eight-hour period in each paddock until they’re finished.
The C part of the system allows the cows access from 6.00pm to 2.00am to a grass and maize silage buffer in the shed.
Furthest walking distance to the robot is 750 metres on concrete sleepers. We already had some laid, and last year added more. We like them - they’re no maintenance, and the cows seem to like them as well. In fact, after introducing the free flow system, the cows are no longer waiting to be milked in the collecting yard for up to five hours a day and lameness incidences have fallen.
2021, our first year was a steep learning curve for both us and the cows, however once they are trained to the system, they’re trained.
Grazing and automatic milking: how to get going
Our FMS team is here to help you find a management style that suits your farm and objectives. Sam Hargreaves initially helped Kevin Batkin establish the grazing platform and general management.
Various grazing strategies can be adopted, but the best option will vary from farm to farm and depends on many factors. Sam discussed with Kevin his own situation and ambitions. He already had an active reseeding programme which provided the opportunity for optimum grass volume during the grazing period. He chose what we refer to as the AB and C system.
AB and C system
Cows are grazed across two, eight-hour day blocks and they are also offered free access to buffer feed and cubicles during the evening. His objective was to optimise grazed grass while keeping up the visits to the robot. It’s a plan that’s working for him.
The alternative two systems he had to choose from were as follows:
• Cows are grazed across two, 12-hour blocks, eg. a day and a night paddock
• It potentially allows cows to travel to paddocks further away from the buildings
• Achieving three robot visits can be a challenge on these systems
• Grassland management isn’t quite as intensive as an ABC system
• Potentially more suited to systems where cows are housed at night
• Cows are grazed across three, eight-hour blocks
• Ideally suited to farmers who want to graze 24 hours a day and want cows to always have access to fresh grass
• Facilitates greater cow movements back to the Grazeway gate and potentially more robot visits
• Helps get the most from freshly calved cows
• Allows more grazing management adjustments to be made in the same day
Right track placement
With a good road network, cows will walk up to 0.6 miles to and from the robot, consequently good infrastructure is essential. Cow tracks must be wide - between 1.80m and 3.00m, well maintained, and always accessible when the cows are in the field. Narrow points should be avoided where dominant cows can stop and restrict the access of submissive cows.
Kevin already had a network of tracks built of 3m wide concrete sleepers on three sides of the farm. He’s since added a further 200m of tracks using 2.4m wide concrete sleepers.
We also ensured that there is a clear route for the cows to the milking robot once they entered through the Grazeway gate to the yard and it was positioned by the fence line to guide cows through the return gate easily.
The Grazeway was positioned to allow the lower ranking cows enough room and time to get access to the cow tracks. We also ensured there was plenty of space around the Grazeway for good cow flow, particularly when the point of exit is changed.
Good water trough placement
Kevin has positioned the troughs close to gateways not only to encourage cow flow, but so that they can also have full access to water in all the paddocks. If positioned at the opposite end of the field, then cows are less likely to walk there to drink. We also made sure where water troughs were positioned on the cow tracks, they were wide enough to ensure that lower ranking cows had adequate space to pass. Depending on temperature and humidity, on average a cow drinks three liters of water to produce one liter of milk.
Key questions to ask