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Andrew Dale

Turning the page – from rotary to robots

Swapping a 20-year-old 28-point rotary parlour for six A5s has helped Andrew Dale to step up efficiency towards a sustainable future for his 350-cow herd comprising mainly Holstein with a few Fleckvieh crosses.

“Our internal rotary was getting to the point it was unreliable and we were heading for serious problems with the running gear. Added to that was the issue of sourcing reliable, trained staff,” explains Andrew who manages Newnham Farm, a 490 acre Shropshire unit.

“We had been considering milking robots for some time. I like innovation and trying new things. When we seriously started to look at the cost of investing in A5s, we found installing Lely milking systems in existing sheds worked out less than a new rotary or alternatively an 24 x 48 herringbone parlour together with new infrastructure including shed to accommodate the parlour, collecting yard and associated metal work.

“We installed the first four A5s in 2018, there was minimum disruption and we were pleased with the herd’s performance response. Since our current farming infrastructure doesn’t allow for any major expansion, we agreed to slightly reduce cow numbers and invest in two more A5s which were eligible for Defra’s previous grant scheme.”

Apart from a 37% yield increase from an average 2.9 milkings, Andrew lists a number of other benefits.

Consistency: performing the same level of service  24/7, and for example each cow is guaranteed to befully milked on all four quarters.

Improved management: with more available time accompanied with Lely’s Horizon management software, we’re able to individually manage each cow.

Reduced concentrate usage: by almost 60% and we’ve made similar cost savings. Introducing Lely’s new Concentrate Optimiser software module has enabled us to move from feeding the herd to yield to feeding to economic output on an individual cow basis. Yield and constituents have been maintained and we’ve witnessed no body weight loss.

Improved fertility: stress levels have been eliminated since they’re no longer standing for long periods in the collecting yard which was too small.

Improved team work: our staff are more relaxed too, operating a more normal working day – from 6.30am to 5.30pm. Before it was a 5.00am start running through up to 7.00pm. We were always worried someone wouldn’t turn up. Whilst two of our three-strong team continue to work with the livestock they’re able to do more valuable work than putting on cups, for example targeting DIY at the optimum time rather than after the milking routine, and more preventative footwork.

Labour savings: we no longer have the challenge of finding and employing part time milking staff.

More flexibility: whilst we’re carrying out the same tractor work - from drilling to silage carting, the schedule is more relaxed. We now have more time to do things more efficiently.

Last but not least, more family time and a better social life and we hope the system will provide a potential platform until for the next generation.