“No alarm clock in 8 years” - Donal O' Sullivan

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Eight years of high standards with a Lely Astronaut

Donal O’Sullivan is farming just outside the village of Knocknagree in Co. Cork. Donal installed a Lely Astronaut at the end of 2013 in preparation for the 2014 season. This is the farms eight full season operating with their Lely Astronaut. Twelve hour days are no more since the installation of the Lely Astronaut. Donal now enjoys much shorter and more flexible hours.

Farm background

The farm consists of a milking platform of 20 hectares milking 70 cows in 2021. The herd is spring calving with a strong focus being placed on grazed grass. Prior to the installation of the Lely Astronaut, Donal was milking 60 cows which delivered 420 kg’s milk solids in 2013. Donal wanted to maximise what he had:

“Getting bigger wasn’t an option so we made the decision to get better rather than bigger in order to make the most of what we had”

Through a greater focus on grassland management and reseeding, Donal was able to grow cow numbers to today’s herd of 70 cows.

In 2020, Donal delivered 608 kg’s of milk solids to Kerry Group at 4.12% Fat and 3.57% protein and had an 86% six week calving rate. Calving Interval for 2020 was 369 days and the herd routinely has a 3-4% empty rate. Meal feeding has remained consistently around the 1.3 ton per cow mark since conversion, Donal comments:

“Although we are feeding similar levels of concentrate to before we installed the robot, we are now targeting it to the cows that need it more”

Donal puts this performance down to many factors but says the Lely Astronaut has been central to realising the potential of his herd.

Since installation of the Lely Astronaut, Donal has achieved his aim of increasing milk yield per cow. Milk yield has increased by 45% and milk solids have increased by 44%. He is now ranked in the top 1% for milk yield and milk solids in Kerry Group having improved from being in the top 20% in 2013.

Donal is a big believer in being proactive rather than reactive with his decisions and uses the information the Astronaut gives him to make management decisions on a daily basis. Some features he finds particularly beneficial include:

  • Feed to yield: allowing for more efficient use of feed
  • Health report: this allows for the early detection of illness enabling prompt treatment.
  • More Milkings: Donal’s cows average 2.6 milking’s per cow per day across their lactation. This in practice means his better cows are milked close to three times a day and his lower yielders are milked at least twice a day.
  • Activity Monitoring: Donal finds the heat detection very accurate with sexed semen used to breed replacements and all other cows bred to beef.
  • Better grass utilisation: ABC grazing has focused Donal on maximising the utilisation of grazed grass in the diet of his cows
  • Mastitis treatments have dropped from 21 in 2013 to 10 in 2020
  • Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT): the provision of daily cell counts for each cow has enabled Donal to confidently begin the use of selective dry cow therapy in his herd

Grassland Management

Donal admits that the installation of the Automated Milking System (AMS) has focused him to improve the utilisation of grass. He has found that there is less damage caused in paddocks as cows move under their own volition and they are not waiting at paddock entrances to be let in for milking. Cows get out to grass early on this farm. Some year’s cows get to grass by mid-February but this is all weather and ground dependent.

Milk Quality

Milk quality on this farm has consistently been of a high standard. Donal believes he now has better control over milk quality as he is able to respond to infection more promptly due to the data recorded by his Lely Astronaut. The Somatic Cell Count of the herd has reduced from 138,000 in 2014 to 95,000 in 2020.

Future Goals

Some goals of Donal’s for the future include increasing the percentage fat and protein in the milk to increase his total milk solids output even more. As well as this, the adoption of Selective Dry Cow Therapy is something at the forefront of Donal’s mind:

“Having the information to hand from the robot for each cow makes a big difference and gives me more confidence in applying selective dry cow therapy to the herd here”

Back up/Service

When Donal made the decision to install an AMS he felt it was essential to have a reliable back up service that he could call upon when needed, and that the transition to an AMS would be as streamlined as possible:

“With the move to an automated milking system, I felt a reliable service would be very important. I made it my number one priority to have a reliable back up service where phones would be answered 24/7. Lely Centre Mitchelstown have an excellent team, be it the service engineers or the farm management support (FMS) team who are always available”.