John Horan Grazing with Lely Astronaut, Ireland
John Horan milks 200 cows alongside his wife Carmel and son Shane in Co. Tipperary. He grew up on a dairy farm and began dairying on his own 240 acre farm over 20 years ago. Originally, John had installed a conventional milking parlour, however after some time he decided to explore automatic milking options. After carrying out his own research into what would suit his herd best and visiting a robotic farm in the Netherlands, John installed three Lely Astronaut A4 automatic milking systems in 2017. Getting started took time but once the Horan’s and the cows got the hang of things, it was plain sailing from there.
“The information I have on my cows is unreal”
“Since we’ve changed from conventional milking to robots, the cows have settled and I have to say, we definitely get more milk in the tank. I have the protein, I have the fat, I have the somatic cell count, and I’ve the milk speed. The information I have on my cows is unreal. I’m breeding to the best of my cows, which I have to say is absolutely super. I feel going forward my herd will improve. Through the information on the robots we culled all the slow cows, the low-yielding cows, and even at that we were up 40,000L on last year.” When the cows start calving in January and February all they have is the heifers to look after. The cows automatically come back in and get going once they’re trained from the year before.
Minimal changes to infrastructure
Changing parlours can be daunting, especially when farmers feel they need to transform their farm to suit a robotic milking system. However, John disagrees with this, he made minimal infrastructure changes on his farm for the robots. “Shed-wise we hadn’t a whole lot to do in the building. “I did build cubicles, which I was going to do anyway. So I wouldn’t count that as any extra work. We had roadways running through the farm, but we’d small tees to put in here and there. We had to put one roadway beside another one to make it a dual carriageway for cows passing. Our milking facilities are in the centre of our farm, but you could work with whatever farm you have.” John explains.
“My daily routine is that we get-up in the morning, we check the collect cow list, the cows or anything that needs to be checked on. We wash the robots. Then I go up to section B of the farm and move on the wire where the cows will be moving out to. We wash the robots morning and evening and clean the lasers, which is important to do.”
John is now able to allocate the time he spent in the parlour to different jobs on the farm. We’re able to do an awful lot of different work on the farm, which I wasn’t able to do before. We do all our own machinery work from hedge cutting, fencing, slurry, and fertiliser. We even do our own silage. We’re able to do all of this because of the robots.” said John. He adds that while the robots may free up more time for farmers, they shouldn’t be completely reliant on them. “What I wouldn’t advise is to put in robots and think that you can get into your car and go off down to the seaside and forget about things. It doesn’t work that way, you still have to put in your time on the farm.”
Improving farm sustainability
John is doing his part in improving his carbon footprint by increasing the sustainability of his farm. He has sown multi-species grass swards containing clover, which reduce his reliance on nitrogen fertiliser. There is two grass mixtures in it and two clover mixtures in it. There is red clover in it, plantain and chicory. “It cuts out fertiliser which is good for the environment. The future plan for the farm is to install solar panels. They will work very well with the robots because we are generating electricity and then using it at the same time. We hope to save between 30-35% of our ESB bill by going solar.” adds John.
Work, life, balance
The most important feature of the robots for John is now he has more free time to spend with his family, which makes his farming life more enjoyable. “I find now on a Sunday we can go off and we don’t have to come back and milk cows which is a great bonus for us,” he concludes.