John Ring who farms 140 British Friesian cows in Blarney Co. Cork installed two Lely Astronauts which involved building into an existing cubicle house.
John Ring is the fifth generation of his family to live and farm on at Coolowen, near Blarney in County Cork.
Married to Mary and father to PJ and James, John and his Farm Manager Pat Reid milk 140 British Friesian type cows, which calve in both autumn and spring. The farm supplies both manufacturing and liquid milk to Dairygold.
Just over two years ago, John had two Lely Astronauts installed – which involved building onto an existing cubicle house. “Our parlour had reached a stage where it was starting to show its age so initially, we decided that we were going to put in a milking parlour,” said John.
“One evening, Mary and myself were having another chat about what we were going to do when she asked me had I considered going down the robotic route which, to be honest, I hadn’t even thought of until she mentioned it. So that chat persuaded me to visit several farms where the robot had been installed and I was very impressed with how the system worked and how it dealt with the cows. So, we decided we’d go with Lely and I wish I had done it sooner.”
“There was very little building involved when it came to housing the Astronauts and the Grazeway – we covered the existing collecting yard – and for the Grazeway, we installed a tank off the existing cowshed, and we were good to go after that. When we were building on, we looked ahead by factoring in sufficient space to install two more robots should we need them. We’re also considering the installation of solar panels which would complement the robots all day, every day and that in turn would create a long-term saving for us in terms of sustainable energy use.”
Dealing with the transition
Becoming accustomed to the new system initially proved “a stressful time for both man and beast, I don’t know how it would have been possible without the team from Lely Mitchelstown” John admitted.
“The first three days was tough going. We separated the cows into three groups for another three days, which helped everything to bed in, and by day 10, only a handful of cows needed help adapting to the robot. But all in all, inside a fortnight, we had transformed how we milked and it’s worked absolutely brilliantly. The Lely Astronaut and Grazeway has been a gamechanger for us. Pat and myself adapted to it, the cows adapted to it and we haven’t look back since.”
In terms of animal welfare, John said the Lely Astronaut and Grazeway has “made the cows way easier to manage - there’s no-one rushing them. And it’s absolutely fascinating to watch them pass each other – one going to the robot, another going to grazing, and no stress on them at all – they’re at their ease and can pretty much do what they want. It’s worked better than I could ever have imagined.”
An unexpected bonus
The benefits of the system came into sharp and unexpected focus for John and his family when he became unwell last November.
“I was critically ill in hospital for 16 days while we were at the height of calving at home so Pat, my farm manager and my wife Mary took over the show yet I could see how everything was going on the farm off my phone. When you bear in mind that Pat and I were pretty much illiterate on the technology front up until we had the robots installed, that just goes to show the quality and user friendliness of the Lely system. And we know that Lely Centre Mitchelstown is only ever a phone call away when it comes to any help or advice that we’d need.''
“But for me, to be in my hospital bed and to remain up to date with how everything was going on the farm, I can’t describe how much stress that took off me. It was a very unexpected benefit when it came to us going robotic.”
A better way of farming
The daily dynamic on the Rings’ farm has been radically altered, said John – and for the better. “The robots have allowed Pat and myself to do other jobs in a way that we couldn’t if we were working in the older, more traditional parlour set-up. After changing a wire around 10 each morning, Pat can go managing the grass while I could be bailing silage or cutting strong grass when we have it. It’s after revolutionising our time management. It has freed us up to do other jobs.”
He continued: “My wife is a radiographer, so she has her job during the day to take care of. My mother Delia, who lives with us, minds our sons during the busier hours on the farm and then after dinner, I can bring PJ and James for the evening without having to think about going into a milking parlour. We can go out in the fields for a ramble or play in the garden; they can come with me and Pat to check the cattle – we couldn’t have done that two years ago. The Lely system has not only made farming easier, but it’s made life better on the farm for us as a family.”
Enhanced decision making
Thanks to Lely, John and Pat can make more informed decisions when it comes to drying off. “This is our second year using selective dry cow therapy: at the click of a button, we can see the history of every cow’s lactation and daily cell count and then base our decisions on how to treat each cow thereafter. Thanks to the system, we also know when a cow is sick pretty much before she herself even knows about it. So, we can then quickly move her into a treatment area, and intervene if needed”.
Our high yielders are getting what they deserve in terms of feed; all the cows are set on a limit and as their litres go up, so does the level of their feed and we’re really pleased with how that’s working.”
John also saluted the “brilliant support” provided by Lely Mitchelstown since the system’s installation. “You call them with an issue, and you get a call back either instantly or within just a few minutes. The peace of mind that level of service provides is second to none. We couldn’t be happier with the team at Lely Mitchelstown.”
As for what advice he’d offer to farmers who haven’t yet ‘gone robotic,’ John replied: “Firstly, go and talk to a farmer who has the system up and running. That’s exactly what we did and it opened my eyes to the system’s possibilities – and it only took one Lely Mitchelstown Center open day to persuade me. By the end of that open day, I practically had two robots bought and it was probably the best farm-related decision that I’ve ever made, I wish I had done it sooner.”