5 x Lely A4 Astronaut automatic milking systems
5 x Lely Discovery Collector barn cleaners
1 x Juno feed pusher
When the Reeds installed five Lely A4 Astronaut milking robots eight years ago, investing in a Lely Juno robotic feed pusher seemed logical as part of the progression towards full automation of their 350-cow dairy herd.
The importance of ensuring feed is pushed up regularly is well known for having a positive effect on rumen health and feed intakes, which in turn drives milk yields.
However, it is one of the jobs that often falls by the wayside, admits Thomas, who farms alongside his father, Robert, mother, Julie, and brother, Nick, at Gatcombe Farm in Seaton, situated on the East Devon coast.
Before the installation of the Juno, a telehandler with a front-end tyre silage pusher was used to push silage closer to the feed barrier.
“We used to rely on a machine being available and for staff to remember to push up feed,” says Thomas.
He says the Juno has improved the reliability and consistency of pushing up silage.
“The Juno keeps the feed in front of the cows more so than we ever did. Feed is always available and there is plenty of space at the feed fence,” adds Thomas.
Feed is mixed and fed twice daily at 7.30am and 1pm using a trailed feeder wagon.
The Juno completes 12 trips each day every two hours pushing up feed. It is programmed to run at shorter hourly intervals for the last four hours of the morning when the quantity of silage from the day before is almost depleted.
Installing the Juno
Thomas says no alterations were needed to accommodate the Juno.
“It fitted easily into our existing system. We just required strips to guide it around the buildings.”
The robotic feed pusher services two cubicle sheds which sit perpendicular to each other. The Juno runs up and down a central indoor passage before making a short journey outside to the second shed where it travels around the shed’s outer feed passage, pushing up feed as it goes.
A dirty yard leading to the covered slurry lagoon prevents the Juno from completing a full circle when travelling.
“It would have been more efficient to operate in a full circle, but we didn’t want it getting dirty and then transferring slurry to the feed passages, so it must take a longer route,” explains Thomas.
However, since upgrading to the latest Juno Flex model in February 2021, it has improved travelling efficiency, explains Thomas.
The Flex runs can travel left and right, unlike its predecessor, which could only move in one direction. This enhancement means it can push up the outside feed fences a second time as it makes its way back to the first shed.
Furthermore, it keeps its skirt raised when travelling between feed fences which reduces wear and tear, believes Thomas.
Thomas estimates the Juno is saving 1.5 hours of labour daily pushing up feed. Although the Reeds have not cut back on the number of people employed at the farm, Thomas says they are now utilising labour more effectively.
The advances in real-time, cow-side monitoring offered by the robots are also aiding efficient use of labour, alongside improvements in cow health and performance.
“The Horizon app allows us to take a hands-off approach to monitoring individual cow needs.
“The cows are calmer using robots. They behave as individuals rather than a herd because they can eat, lie down and milk when they want.”
Furthermore, timid cows always have feed in front of them when they choose to eat, adds Thomas.
The addition of more automated technology
Since converting from sand to water mattresses and sawdust this summer, the Reeds purchased five Lely Discovery slurry collectors.
These have saved five hours of labour scraping passageways and raking beds as well as negating the need for a tractor.
Although their first step on the path to automation began out of a necessity to replace their dated herringbone parlour, Thomas believes automating the day-to-day management of the herd has been the right decision for their future.
“As a family, it has given us a lot more flexibility to focus on. We are no longer tied to milking and the shed.”
- Rise in milk yields
- Improved dry matter intakes
- Equal feed opportunity
- Reduced feed waste.
- Milking 300 Holsteins, 350 cows in total plus youngstock
- 11,675 litres, 3.38% protein, 4.07% butterfat
- Cell count of 123,000 cells/ml
- All-year-round calving
- Supplying Crediton Dairies
- Farming 1,000 acres, mixed of tenanted and owned
- 28.5% pregnancy rate
- Averaging 3.2 visits daily
- 2,700 litres of milk from forage.
For the full interview, click here
Planning for success with large herds
When planning to automate a large dairy unit it’s important to think beyond milking, says Ben Nottage, Lely Atlantic’s DairyXL Account Manager.