Situated in Bunnythorpe, Manawatu this Schnell family dairy farm has seen many changes. From; horse farm, to conventional dairy farm and now to a Lely robotic milking farm with happy cows and even happier farmers.
Brian and Margaret Schnell purchased their Bunnythorpe property 32 years ago, and Brian who is an acclaimed restoration guru of all kinds of antique engines has embraced the move to robotics, which is, a far cry from the likes of the steam engines Brian restores to original condition and takes his grandkids for rides around the farm on.

Journey to dairy farming

Brian and Margaret’s daughter Amy and husband Greg Gemmell’s journey into becoming herd-owning sharemilkers started in 2003 when Greg started managing the family operation. Now they are 4 years into their new venture, in which they are already huge advocates for, saying the conversion to robots has been much easier than they anticipated. 

Astronaut is the complete cow management tool

Currently milking their herd through 3 Lely Astronaut robots, Greg and Amy’s herd is made up of 200 Friesian cows, of which approximately 50% are spring calvers and the rest 50% are autumn calvers. Greg states “the reason behind going with the robot idea is that I’ve been on concrete now for 25 years and I decided another 20 years on concrete just isn’t healthy.  But the robots are so much more than reducing the physical, repetitive work on the body. We can see that this is a complete farm and cow management tool, where we have the flexibility to structure our day to a point, rather than working around milking times”. The previous 24 aside Herringbone milking system on the Schnell property had cup removers and Greg states he was happy with this system, but the decision to fill the pit and look ahead to the future was made and now this happy duo are certainly not looking back. The 2018-19 season achieved 1000kg/MS per hectare. 

Happy cows

With the guidance of Lely Center Manawatu Amy and Greg made the decision to transition their cows to the robots over an 8 week period as calving took place. With between 2-6 cows on average to train a day and with beautifully quiet cows the transition went smoothly from the get go. Amy states “I’ve been really impressed with how quick the cows have adjusted to the system. They’re very happy cows. Our very first night after training we were impressed with how it had gone and then in the first week when we had 7 cows come in overnight it was just celebration time all around. We could actually see that this system was going to work, and now most of the herd come through the night between 10 pm – 3 am”. 

Grazing system

Utilising the ABC pasture management system, the Lely ABC grazing system, cows alternate between three races within a 24 hour period, meaning less pressure on pasture and more recovery time for paddocks between grazing’s. Cows are offered the incentive of meal being fed through the robot each time they visit, which encourages them to be milked more often and then move onto a new pasture allocation. 
Greg is finding that with having robots it is much easier to manage his pasture and that his paddocks aren’t being chewed down as hard, as they were on the previous system. Greg says that “by being able to manipulate where the cows are going to go and how they’re going to graze is a really handy tool”. 

Information from T4C

The Gemmell’s haven’t experienced much in terms of animal health issues on this Bunnythorpe farm, but with the T4C management system they are now able to keep an eagle eye on what’s happening at a herd level, a group level and at a per-cow level. “You’ve taken a motorbike away, you’ve taken a backing gate away and you’ve also taken the humans out of the milking area. I think by not having human intervention cows with any health issues will naturally right themselves” states Greg. Amy adds that “a cow may spike in cell count, yes, but often she’ll bring herself in to be milked a little more regularly and her cell count  will come down naturally”. This season 2019-20 have achieved the lowest scc in the history of the farm of 99,000.

Lely T4C herd management system collects and records all data provided by the Lely Astronaut robots through its many sensors including; cow weight, rumination minutes, cow activity, fat/protein indications, milk production, feed intake, milking speed and number of visits to the robot to name a few. It analyses and presents only clear and useful information, making for more control and more freedom when it comes to managing your herd. “We’ve found that the information from the T4C system is invaluable, it just shows how much the four times a year herd testing really hasn’t given us the information we need about each cows” says Amy. With Greg adding that all the information presented in T4C makes it far more reliable, as a manager, to keep an eye on the day-to-day running of the farm. 

                      

                         

Lely Astronaut - Joanne Crack (English / New Zealand)

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Farmers all over the world make choices about how they set up and run their farms. Every day, we help them make the best choices for themselves and their farms. We do this by providing advice and innovative solutions that contribute to efficient farm management. For sustainable milk and meat production. Present and future.

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