Robotic Milking and Grazing
“I have a complete picture of my herd as the system highlights cows that are underperforming allowing me make decisions to maximise their potential.”
John Gleeson, Drangan, Co. Tipperary
Milking a large dairy herd with Lely Astronauts
John and Louise Gleeson farm with their family in the village of Drangan in Co. Tipperary. This spring the Gleeson family installed a 3 unit Lely Astronaut robotic milking system on their existing dairy farm. Currently they are milking 160 British Friesian Cross cows, averaging 21kg of milk at 3.34% Protein and Butterfat of 4%. SCC is 100,000 cells per ml with TBC’s running at 5,000.
Why a Lely Astronaut milking robot
When asked about why he chose the Lely Astronaut Milking system, John mentioned from a machine perspective the unique robotic arm used to connect the cups during the milking process as one of the most attractive factors in his decision. ‘’The cows can kick it until the cows come home and nothing will break. I was not convinced by the robotic arm on some other makes, the Lely arm is more robust than anything else I saw. I would give up milking if I was forced to go back to a conventional milking parlour. To know you have made the right decision and then see things continuously improving week by week, getting better and better feels great. This is the way to go, I’m so glad I didn’t invest in an ordinary parlour. If I had my big 30 unit I’d be rightly stuck, basically I’d give up milking cows before I’d go back the conventional way. I think I will also benefit health wise and can look forward to life after cows. I was always under pressure with the old system and constantly running against the clock.’’ explains John
One of the biggest benefits
‘’Time! The time I have now compared to before is a major difference. I can pick out cows individually and I can single handily manage large numbers now. I have a complete picture of my herd both good and bad. The robot will highlight underperforming cows and as a result let me know what to improve on, to maximise the potential of the herd.’’ says John.
Large dairy herds and the Lely Astronaut
‘’We were always strip grazing and not much has changed really. I was surprised to see how content the cows were when grazing, they are much happier than in the past. Personally I am spending half an hour twice a day, changing wires and looking after any problem cows. Anything else works away unnoticed by yourself. We are currently using an AB grazing system and will move to ABC next spring once we build an underpass, to provide access to an extra block of land. The aim next year is to maximise the potential of the system with 200 cows. I am saving several hours a day by not physically milking cows anymore. After my experience I definitely would recommend the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system to farmers with high cow numbers. The price gap is narrow between the systems. If you can afford it, change, if not hang on and put in an Astronaut. You may as well be paying for a Lely rather than the milking machine.’’ explains John.
John only installed his 3 Lely Astronauts this spring and has had an amazing start to life with the Lely Astronaut and could not believe he would be showcasing his farm in less than 6 months since changeover. ‘’I didn’t think I would be having an Open Day so soon after startup. I couldn’t have managed to do so without the support I got from Lely and also having a good man on the ground who adapted to the system very quickly. There is more work involved at the startup phase, not physical work but more mental so I was very dependent on support at the beginning. The Lely lads could not have done any more to help. Lely Center Enniscorthy provide startup support for every new installation to help train cows and the customer, while also providing ongoing Farm Management Support advice, from qualified Lely advisors throughout the first 6-12 months. This advice helps ensure a smooth startup period and provides the customer with confidence during this exciting new transition.” concludes John.
“The information is powerful and allows us react where necessary. It’s the best way to milk a cow, every milking is exactly the same and with the current labour shortage, it’s the way forward.”
Enda Horgan, Castletown, Co. Meath
New way of life with robotic milking
The Horgan’s are milking 140 Friesian crossbred cows in partnership in Castletown, Co. Meath. Operating on a total platform of almost 200 acres, the plan is to increase numbers for the springtime. Herd average is 5,500 litres per cow with 3.7% protein and 4.3% fat. Current milk solids per cow are 450kg but the target is 500kg. TBC’s are 3,000 and SCC’s are running at 56,000 cells per ml.
“We were suckling cows, finishing cattle and into tillage on the home farm in Castletown. Dad was milking cows with his 2 brothers in Nobber for the last 40 years. With the abolition of quotas, we decided to turn the home farm into dairy and started with 80 heifers in 2015. We are increasing cow numbers for next spring and are currently building a shed with slatted tanks, 150 cubicles etc. to house the extra cows.” says Enda.
Labour saving, more time and flexibility
“We were looking at milking parlours originally and decided to travel to the north and investigate the Lely robots as there was a lot of talk about them nationally. Needless to say, we were very impressed and decided to study them even more. Dad had milked cows for 40 years and had enough of that, meanwhile I was a new entrant to dairying. We decided to put in 2 Lely Astronauts, started milking in spring of 2015 and we haven’t looked back since. It’s a real change of lifestyle; as well as having more spare time, we have far more flexibility – both of us can take evenings off or head away at the weekends – we are not tied to the cows anymore. We put an hour’s work into the robots daily, 30 minutes early morning carrying out the routine daily tasks (cleaning the laser, changing milk filter sock and checking the attention cow list) and another 30 minutes organising paddocks for the day. Unless there is a cow for AI, that’s it for the day. Once organised, there is no big hassle getting away to do other things.” adds Enda.
“The information generated is very impressive; heat detection & rumination, somatic cell counter, weighing, feed to yield, daily milk protein and milk fat indication, automatic drafting etc. are great tools. The knowledge and information is powerful and gives us control to react where necessary. It’s the best way to milk a cow, every milking is exactly the same and with the current labour shortage, it’s the way forward.” states Enda.
Grazing and Robots
“We were unsure how the grazing would work and while it took cows sometime to get the hang of grazing, they fully understand the system and move very well. It took us a while to figure out grass allocations, daily covers etc. but we are flying now. We are operating an ABC grazing system which ensures the cows are offered fresh grass every 8 hours. Cows are grazing 1300 – 1500 covers and are currently averaging 21 kgs per day on 0.8kg of concentrate with 2 milking’s per cow at the moment. Our solids are very good, 3.7% protein and 4.3% fat and there is virtually no mastitis – I can’t remember the last time I tubed a cow.” concludes Enda.
"We started with 92 cows and the first two days were tough going but by day 3 things were becoming easier with 75% of cows milking by themselves. By the end of the first week it was amazing to see how well the cows had adapted."
Brendan Collins, Dunmanway, Co. Cork
Only 4 months in and the cows are flying
Brendan Collins farms with his father Pat in Kilmalooda near Dunmanway in West Cork. As well as dairy farming they run a contracting business and Brendan also runs a concrete formwork business. “We had an old 8 unit herringbone parlour and I had been thinking about robotic milking for a number of years, since I first saw the Lely Astronaut at the Ploughing. I was always looking for negative information on the system but could never find any. In the spring of 2016 I started planning a new shed and with the ever increasing shortage of labour I said it was time to take a serious look at robotic milking. We did the sums and decided the time was right to invest. We started milking with 2 Lely Astronaut robots on the 21st of March and less than four months on and the cows are flying.” says Brendan.
No longer in a rush home to milk cows
“I now have far more flexibility when working off farm. When I’m on a concrete pour you would usually have 2 or 3 hours work in front of you and the potential for ready-mix to run late is always there. Until this year I would have always said that cows and concrete don’t mix. Nowadays I don’t have to be in a rush home for evening milking as the new system allows me to be far more flexible in relation to my workload. The cows are content and they come and go to the Lely Astronaut at their leisure. We are saving over 4 hours labour daily so I’m under far less pressure and can have a sleep in on a Sunday if I need too. Although my dad was a bit sceptical at first he is now convinced and is looking for more work. He has plenty time to concentrate on the contracting business between baling and slurry spreading without being tied to the clock.” adds Brendan.
Project co-ordination, start up and grazing
Lely Center Mitchelstown had to work around me as I was finishing the building. The installation process ran very smoothly and before I knew it we were ready to milk cows. We started with 92 cows and the first two days in particular were tough going, but by the third day things were already becoming easier, with about 75% of cows milking by themselves. By the end of the first week it was amazing to see how well the cows had adapted. People need to understand that it can be tough going for the first couple of weeks as it is all new for the farmer and the cows as you need to break the herd mentality. But they quickly begin to understand that they can come and go to the robot at their leisure and be milked at any time of the day or night. I was already fairly well organised from a grazing perspective regarding my paddock set up, so the changes required were minimal. We are using an ABC grazing system as it suits my farm and encourages visits to the robots with the gates changing every 8 hours. Once the cows go out to grass this is where you really need a strategy to get them moving. It is a big change to go from being herded to the parlour to moving freely and individually to the Lely Astronaut. It was during this phase of the start-up that I found the support and advice from Lely to be really invaluable.I put in some new roadways and an underpass to allow the cow’s better access to the shed and they are now very well settled into the new grazing set up. I often wondered how much time a farmer spends daily opening and closing gates. With the underpass and robotic milking I never go near a gate now.” laughs Brendan.
“I will go up to 130 cows and my main aim now is to improve the quality of the herd. I have 50 replacement heifers coming on next year so it shouldn’t take too long. I had very little specific information about the cows on the old system apart from milk in the tank. The Lely T4C (time for cows) management programme is very easy to follow. I now know a lot more about my cows and with the heat detection system you have a clearer idea of when cows are in heat. The system is really helping me identify the passengers and I can’t afford to carry them any longer.” concludes Brendan.
John, Enda and Brendan invite you to attend their Open Days
Open Day 11am-4pm
Tuesday 18th July
John & Louise Gleeson
The farm will be signposted from all major routes close to Drangan village
Open Day 11am-4pm
Wed 19th July
Enda & Michael Horgan
The farm will be signposted from the N52
Ardee – Kells rd.
Open Day 11am-4pm
Thurs 20th July
The farm will be signposted from the R587
Dunmanway – Macroom rd.
For further details please contact:
Michael Downey Lely Center Enniscorthy 087 2052257
Niall McGauran Lely Center Mullingar 086 4178424
Brian Prendergast Lely Center Mitchelstown 087 9326983