Bruce Dinnigton’s 210 hectares farm at Dacre, near Invercargill, runs about 580 cows. He has extended milking days by up to 35 days and lifted production by about 10% under a single-shed, automated system installed in July 2018.

Hybrid-barn

Dinnington understood his platform was the first in the world with individual stalls and free barn under one roof, coupled with outdoor grazing. Dinnington wanted to retain outdoor grazing, so his system is a kind of New Zealand hybrid featuring a free stall barn to avoid pasture damage in winter and across the wetter seasonal shoulders. “The main reason we use this barn is to protect the pastures from pugging and also to give the cows a dry bed at night. Once we get in June and July, with conditions a lot colder, the cows can stay in here 24 hours a day.”

Farm Layout

The cows enter the milking barn from the paddocks through Texas gates, down the side of the barn and through a drafting gate into the pre-milk area. The cows have access to baleage and water in that area – and it’s here that they wait their turn for the milking robot. The cows then pass through two back-scratchers, into one four laneways and onto a fresh break of grass. The farm is divided into four grazing blocks and the barn gates leading to those different feed blocks change about every six hours. The cows are usually let into the hybrid feed barn at the end of April, when they’ll get fed baleage at night. They still have free access to the milking robots through the Texas gates, which can also be lifted off to give the cows free access to the robots, if desired. The shed has 360 stalls so there’s more than enough room for all of Dinnington’s herd. 

Nice cows

Nearly two years after installing a Lely Astronaut, he has learnt that cows on automated milking and feeding systems like to be left alone as much as possible – and they do better for it.  “The cows have become a completely different animal. They’re far more contented and relaxed, basically stress free. That had huge benefits for production and health traits for the cows,” Bruce said. Dinnington said three quarters of the cows that went through the robot the first time needed no further handling to get the hang of it. The remaining cows had it sorted within two or three days. “It shows you how quickly the cows adapted to this system; far quicker than the farmer does. The last group that were waiting behind to be milked were actually waiting for us. So since we walked away from the shed and left them to it, the cows went through by themselves.” Dinnington’s approach since then has been to step back and let the cows flow by themselves. “The cows have trained far better than we thought and they’re free roaming around the farm as they please.”

Change in lifestyle

He switched to robotic dairying after his old 50-bale rotary platform reached the end of its life. Dinnington had farmed with his parents for many years but he was getting to a stage, as they got older, that he wanted to find a way to keep farming sustainably himself. “We believed this was the way of the future and the style of farming we wanted to pursue.”

Insights on cow’s health and production

Average production for the spring calvers this season was a tad over 42 litres, compared to a previous peak – before automated milking – of 37 or 38 litres. Since introducing the Astronaut milkers, cows were now fed strictly according to their production. “It’s performance-based, if you like. The big-milking cows are getting more compared to the rest. We’re definitely seeing a benefit with those big milking cows as they’re fed the extra grain required to keep them going.” The robotic system gives Dinnington other insights too, like cell count information from the quarter of each cow. That allows him to detect and treat mastitis quicker. As part of the automation, cows also stand on scales. An alarm sends an alert if animals have lost weight, so potential health problems are discovered faster. 

Reduce reliance on staff

“Coupled with that, the system also reduces your reliance on staff and it gives you a much better lifestyle as well. So it combines a lot of issues into one, which makes farming a more enjoyable environment.” says Bruce Dinnington.

 

Hybrid Barn - Bruce Dinnington (English / New Zealand)

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