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Grassland Management Gets a Boost

Introducing robotic milking on his 240-acre unit has given Adrian Windsor the chance to improve his grassland management… improving both the quality of his grass, his silage, and the cost-efficiency of his British Friesian cows.

Tom & Adrian Windsor

Farming a mixture of owned and rented land at Fforest Farm, Whitland in Carmarthenshire, he was spending up to eight hours a day in the parlour milking, and says he had no time for managing grass growth or
grazing. Now he’s invested in robotic technology he feels he’s gone ‘up to the next stage’ and can see a 100% improvement in what he’s doing. 

His cows are out for 10 months of the year, weather permitting, and he’s totally committed to his two Lely A4 Astronauts, planning to add a third in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Because I have a grassland system, I went out to Ireland to look at how robots worked in this farming situation and was amazed. The cows had adapted quickly and brought themselves in from grazing
easily. Every worry I had about the system was removed. I came back convinced this was the way to go.”

At the time, he had full planning permission for a 25 side by side parlour, so this was quite a radical change of direction for him, his son Tom who is now a Lely engineer, and his semi-retired parents Lance and Ann.

With 145 milkers today, Adrian’s going for robust and capacious cows with good fats and proteins, and is looking for longevity, good feet and legs, plus teat placement.

“I went to the US as a farming ambassador and came back determined not to have a Holstein on the farm,” he said. “They just don’t last. I get 10 to 11 lactations from each of my British Friesian
cows, so my replacement rate is low, with no more than 20 needing to be reared each year. I aim to rear these from the heifers and my best cows, using sexed semen.”

The rest of his milkers are put to a beef bull, a Belgian Blue with AI, or a Limousin bull they’ve reared on the farm.

Not enough hours in the day

“Before I just didn’t have enough hours in the day,” he says. “I knew my grassland management wasn’t as good as it should be. I wasn’t getting either the yield or the quality I knew the far could achieve.”

Jokingly he says he doesn’t plate measure but ‘welly measures’ and that the biggest job is the regular moving of the electric fencing. “We use a temporary paddock system and the earlier we graze, the faster the
growth. Before we were mob grazing, now we move the fence twice a day and get much better utilisation, keeping the grass at the right height.”

Before robots were installed, his silage ME was a maximum of 10.5 to 11, while his latest results show it’s increased to 13.2 ME with a dry matter of 25.2, protein 21.7 and sugars of 17.

He’s added herbal leys into the rotation, with clover and chicory, and feels more confident as they tend to offer better drought resistance.

“To be honest I couldn’t believe what I saw in Ireland, but when I came back and worked on all the figures it was clear this was the way for us to go.

“The robots went in during 2017 and it took the cows 10 minutes to adapt… the slower cows took longer to adapt to the Lely Grazeway gates, but within 48 hours everything was going according to plan.”

Yield increase is a major plus

The biggest benefit linked to the better grassland management has been the 2000 litre yield increase he’s seen over the past two years. “Average yields are around 22litres/cow/day but it has been as high as 27litres/cow/day,” he says. “The hardest part of the job now is managing fertility, because the cows are outside so much, but we have bulling monitors and they seem to be working well. We also have the vet here once every three weeks.”

Other benefits he’s noticed since the switch has been a ‘massive’ drop in mastitis cases and cell counts, and a big improvement in the cow’s feet. “I used to use a box of cow tubes a month, now, in the first two years since the robots, I’ve only used one box and most of them were used on the sheep!

“The cows are no longer standing in the yard waiting to be milked. In the past, the last ones through the parlour would have been standing waiting to be milked for 4 hours twice a day. Now there’s none of that.”

He also commented that the cows were much quieter and relaxed.

“If we hadn’t gone to Ireland we’d never have done this,” he says. “I’d urge everyone to look at robots. They won’t suit all, of course, but they work well for us. Cost-wise there was very little difference between the robots and the new planned parlour, and the extra spent has more than been covered by our savings from not needing a relief milker.

“We’re very confident in the future of the farm and we like to keep things simple. We all have to get used to new technology, I certainly wasn’t computer literate, so if I can manage it, and use all the management information the T4C system offers us… then anyone can!”

“Farming is all about developing what works for you,” he says. “We’ve found what works for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” adds Adrian.