Times were tough in the beef industry. The abolition of milk quotas gave Denis and John the opportunity to switch from suckling to milking cows. They both chose the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system and here are their stories.

"Better off dairying than suckling even at 23c per litre"

Denis Condron, Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

New Entrant
“I was a suckler beef farmer all my life, I had 80 good quality cows split between Spring and Autumn calving. All calves were sold as weanlings in the local marts. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough in it – the cow was costing too much to keep and it was only the abolition of quotas that gave me the incentive to consider milking cows.” says Denis. 

Moving from beef to dairy
“I looked at all the options out there and while conventional milking machines are cheaper, there was really no difference between them and the robot when you add in the costs associated with the milking parlour, buildings and collecting yard. With that, I opted for the Lely Astronaut which has been incorporated into the existing slatted house with minimal building and investment required.” comments Denis. 

The right decision
“It didn’t cost me anymore to move to robotic milking but the fact that I have great cow information (milk protein/fat, yield, Somatic Cell Count, TBC, mastitis indication, heat detection, rumination etc.) and I don’t have to milk morning and evening made it an easy decision. I had no experience of milking cows so investing in the robot was the right decision for me.” mentions Denis.

Better off dairying
“I was a bit nervous at times as it cost quite a bit to set up the farm (in terms of roads, paddocks, drinking troughs etc.) I would definitely recommend the Lely Astronaut to any beef farmer that has land in one block. I started last year with 66 heifers and even when milk price was as low as 23c per litre, I was definitely much better off dairying than suckling.” quotes Denis.

Flexibility
“I never milked cows before but I have more spare time and flexibility than those with conventional parlours as we have no milking or washing down to do - the biggest advantage of robotic milking. I spend 15 minutes in the morning doing routine tasks – clean the laser, wash down the robot arm, change filter sock and check the attention list for any health alerts. This gives me plenty of time to do the other daily jobs." admits Denis.

The future
“I recently formed a partnership with my son David (who works fulltime off farm) and next spring we will introduce 30 more heifers into the herd with an additional 30 the following autumn. This will bring the herd to around 140 cows and it will be nicely set up for David when he decides to take it on fulltime.” concludes Denis.

"After over 25 years of suckler cows I did not fancy entering the pit before 6 every morning."

John Lanigan, Leigh, Twomileborris, Co. Tipperary

New Entrant
The Lanigan family have been farming in Leigh near Twomileborris in Tipperary for over 300 years. John had been suckler and sheep farming all his life and began milking in October 2014. "Before then I was excluded from dairying with the quota system and I thought now was my time." notes John. "One of my key interests is genetics and I believe you can breed for everything. I decided to go for a 50/50 British Fresian Holstein cross cow as I felt they were best suited to my system. Once you have the right set up and the right cow it will be a dream." 

Moving from beef to dairy
"We have gone from 100 suckler cows and 200 ewes to 70 dairy cows, 30 pedigree red Angus sucklers and we still have the sheep." says John. "Times were tough in the beef industry, I was aiming for the top end of the market, selling all weanlings at 9 months of age and my production costs were too high. Margins were being continuously eroded and from an economical perspective it wasn’t adding up." 

Suckler cows v Dairy cows
"The key difference is that dairy cows need more management. They are bred to be handled twice a day whereas the sucklers are rarely handled. Many dairy farmers had advised me that 75% of the work is in the first quarter of the year and that is certainly true. Dairying is constant, it’s a different type of job and you see progress all the time in the bulk tank. With beef it took 18 months from insemination to actual sale of the weanlings and then you were gambling and hoping for a good day in the ring in Thurles." laughs John.

Building work and project management
"I had plenty of existing accommodation so the key changes were going from straw bedding to cubicles, scraper installation and moving to robotic milking. I found the Lely project coordination excellent. They prepared all the plans for the barn layout, cubicles, scrapers etc. which was a big help to me coming from a suckler background with no dairy cow experience."

Why robotic milking?
"After over 25 years of suckler cows I did not fancy entering the pit before 6 every morning." notes John. I could never envisage my children becoming interested in dairying if I went the traditional route. I felt that if I had a good robotic milking system it would appeal to them. The flexibility of the system was also key as I am free to do as I please with the kids and not tied to a parlour."

Heat detection and insemination
"The Lely T4C (time for cows) management programme is excellent and identifies any cows that are sick or in heat. I inseminated all my cows last year based on the robot information. Only 4 cows from 70 were in calf to the stock bull which shows how accurate the heat detection system is. When a cow in heat is detected she is automatically drafted into a separation area.  It’s far easier when she is in the pen waiting for you rather than having to bring her in smiled John. Breeding is a passion of mine and I’m delighted with the results."

Robotic milking and grazing
"We started off with AB grazing. Since the end of February the cows are out for two thirds of the time so we are now effectively running an ABC system (indoors being C). This ensures more visits to the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system and the cows are milking 3 times daily and producing 31 litres on average at the moment."

The future
"There has been a lot of talk in this area about the famous Casino laughs John and when asked if he felt he had hit the jackpot with dairy he noted that he wasn’t there yet but feels it’s less of a gamble now. The pleasing thing as a new entrant is that you can see things improving all the time and you see the progress year on year. There are definitely more efficiencies to achieve within the system as I become more experienced in dairy farming. My goal is to maximize the potential of the herd I have at the moment and once I’ve achieved that I will install another robot and double my herd size." concludes John.
 

Denis & John invite you to attend their Open Days

 

Denis Condron

Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Open day Tuesday 28th March 11am-3 pm
The farm will be signposted from Tullamore.

John Lanigan

Leigh, Twomileborris, Co, Tipperary
Open day Wednesday 29th March 11am-3 pm
The farm will be signposted from Twomileborris, Urlingford and Thurles.

For further details please contact:

Niall Mc Gauran Lely Center Mullingar 086 4178424
Michael Downey Lely Center Enniscorthy 087 2052257
Brian Prendergast Lely Center Mitchelstown 087 9326983

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