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Ruth and Steve Ashley

Real- time cow monitoring transforms cow health and production

Ruth and Steve Ashley, Meadow Bank Farm, near Shewsbury, Shropshire

“The Horizon app is the bit that brings it all together, enabling us to monitor cow and robot performance at the touch of our fingertips.” Ruth Ashley.

X 2 Lely Astronaut A4 Robots

Lely Horizon App

Yields have doubled from 7,000 litres to 14,300 litres annually since husband-and-wife, Ruth and Steve Ashley, installed robots. The first robot went in at Meadow Bank Farm, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, ten years ago with the second following in 2016. The move to robots has been part of a bigger project building state-of-the-art facilities for cows and youngstock to replace dated sheds. Investing in technology has been crucial part of the process to optimise cow welfare and performance.

Udder health

“The robots have had the biggest impact on udder health,” says Ruth. She adds: “The way they tailor brush times to stimulate milk let down alongside individual quarter take-off settings to optimise milking times has really improved teat-end conditions.”

Normally, cows are brushed twice on each quarter before the clusters are attached, but on bimodal cows – animals that have delayed milk let down – settings can be tailored to brush individual quarters up to four times. Bespoke cluster take-off settings can be adjusted to ensure cows are not under-or-over milked in individual quarters, too.

As well as improving udder health and the condition of teat ends it has increased milking speed from 3.2kg/minute to 3.4kg/minute. “It is a small win, but time is crucial on the robot,” says Ruth. Somatic cell counts for the previous 12 months have averaged 130,000 cells/ml and mastitis cases run at just 12 cases per 100 cows. “Mastitis was bad when we milked through our eight-abreast parlour. We could have had 8-10 cases a month and we were only milking 40-50 cows,” admits Ruth.

Furthermore, 73% of milking cows now dried off without antibiotics. “Cows that are below 200,000 cells/ml on average throughout their lactation with no previous case of mastitis during lactation will receive teat sealant only,” describes Ruth.

Pregnancy rates

Better cow health is contributing to fertility gains, too. The Ashleys operate a voluntary waiting period of 50 days with pregnancy rates averaging 29% for the last rolling 12 months, placing them within the top 5% of British herds for fertility. The Ashleys credit Lely’s Qwes collars with aiding this. The collars provide real-time information on heats to identify the optimal time for insemination. They also monitor individual cow rumination and activity.

Lely’s Horizon App then collects data from the collars and the robots, interprets it and feeds it back to the phone via an app. It creates alerts for sick animals and cows in heat, for example. This is allowing the Ashleys to detect small changes in cow behaviour and get ahead of problems. Staff, the vet and nutritionist can be given access to the app via so they can look at relevant data, too, which circumvents the need for email trials, says Ruth.

Over the past 12 months, milk fevers have been non-existent and the incidence of retained foetal membranes and displaced abomasums are running at less than 1%. “The app is the bit that brings it all together, enabling us to monitor cow and robot performance at the touch of our fingertips.” “It is as much about the robot as the it is the cows. The data you get from the robot is equally as valuable in making sure cows are being milked properly and efficiently,” says Ruth.

Improved performance:

  • +7,000 litres
  • Lower incidence of fresh cow disease
  • Fewer cases of mastitis

Fact File:

  • Milking 105 Holsteins through two Lely A4 Astronaut milking robots
  • Farming 264 acres
  • Producing 14,300 litres of milk at 4.11% butterfat and 3.34% protein
  • Feeding 16.2kg of concentrate/100kg of milk
  • Supplying Muller/Coop.
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