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.

Dairy XL

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Building a system around cow management, rather than just milking, is where the real labour savings can be made for larger dairy units, says Ben Nottage. “If you’re just considering milking, it’s a case of replacing a parlour with Astronaut milking robots. But that isn’t using your robots to their full capabilities and with a large herd that will still mean spending a lot of man hours finding and fetching cows for other tasks. Therefore at Lely we advocate building your system around all management tasks and basing decisions on your entire workload.”

He explains: “Throughout the year consider how many ‘cow touches’ you have in your system. It will be different for every farm, but will include everything from calving, checking ketones, temperature checks, post-natal checks and AI. It should also include foot trimming, pregnancy diagnoses and vaccinations.

“Think of all the interactions you have with your herd. How do we design a system where one person can do everything?”

The Lely Astronaut can be used to segregate individuals or groups, an effortless way of finding a cow needing attention and much less stressful for her too, he says. “However, if you’re going to do that you need a dedicated area for those cows including cubicles or a laying area, feed fence and water troughs. She may also need continued access to the robot if she is to be in the management area for any length of time.

“Also think about tasks within that management area. If you’re using a Lely Discovery Collector for scraping the main cow shed, then let’s design the system so it can work in this management area too. If you have a system to automatically fill footbaths then let’s also have that. The more effectively we plan all of these elements, the more labour we can save and the more efficient your business will be.”

The first step when planning any automated system – but particularly a large one – is to make contact with a your local Lely Center, he says. “Talk to your local Center who will have experts that can help and advise, but who can also call upon the DairyXL team and our network of global experts too.”

Lely DairyXL is a global team with expertise in working with farms with 500+ cows. For more information on this unique service visit