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.
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.”