Robotic milker leads to improved farm profitability

Published: 28 Dec 2012 13:000 comments

A Clogher Valley family have now rest assured of more family time in the mornings and evenings as a robotic milker does the work with the dairy herd.

The DeLaval swinging cow brush SCB, which starts to rotate on contact, is a revolution in cow care and cow comfort.

The DeLaval swinging cow brush SCB, which starts to rotate on contact, is a revolution in cow care and cow comfort.

Riverside farm on Grogey Road near Fivemiletown has just installed a Voluntary Milking System(robotic milking system) for its herd of 80 cows which can milk 24/7 at the cows' convenience and without any input from the McClure family.

Farm owners Ian and Henry McClure have a large and diversified farm enterprise in the Clogher Valley near the Colebrooke River. Ian McClure is also Chairman of Fivemiletown Creamery -a farmer owned Co-operative Society while his son Henry manages the dairy enterprise and is married to Nicki a schoolteacher. They have three children, Jordan, Kacey- Leigh and baby Jenson. Both Nicki and Henry value their time together so optimising their family lifestyle is very important to them and their children.

The average yield for their commercial dairy herd was around 7,000 litres (over 1,500 gallons) at 4.2% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Cows are fed on a TMR system and the diet includes wheaten straw, grass silage, liquid Glycerine (Henry is delighted with the results) and a blend supplied by John Thompson and Sons Ltd.

The old plant which was installed in 1978 had six units with recording jars. According to Henry it was taking two or more hours to milk the cows. So they were spending four to four and 1/2 hours a day just milking the cows. Henry wanted to increase milk production without increasing cow numbers so he carefully investigated the options available.

As well as the dairy cows, the McClure family also have a birth to bacon pig enterprise and a Charolais x Simmental suckler herd taking progency from birth to beef and some pedigree Charolais cattle. With cows to be milked all year round, the family made a substantial investment last December in plant and equipment to improve productivity and profitability on the dairy enterprise.

They opted for the DeLaval VMS (Voluntary Milking System) which includes a computerised cleaning and feeding system for the cows while milking is in progress. Henry is feeding the Glycerine in a second dispenser in the VMS which gives targeted cows extra energy. This has proved to be a great help in maximising the full potential yield.

In addition they also invested in DeLaval activity meters which detects even so-called "silent heats" with detection rates of up to 95%. The cows also have access to an automatic cow brush for grooming themselves, out of parlour feeders when they get hungry and their cubicles are cleaned 24/7 by the DeLaval RS420S robotic scraper. Henry wanted to increase milk production per cow and has achieved this with the VMS system.

"I notice the freshly calved cows in particular are milking much better. It's a lot easier on them, they are under less pressure as they go and get themselves milked three times a day."

The McClure family also invested in the DeLaval Smart selection gate SSG system. This allows Henry to pre-select cows so only those with milking permission are allowed in to the DeLaval VMS.

Cows quickly learn how to use the DeLaval SSG. It becomes part of their natural routine and saves hours of unproductive cow fetching time. Henry has no cows to collect that have not been milked. However cows always have access to feed so the herd is very contented.

This investment has reduced the labour and time required (one less full-time man is employed). It has also reduced costs, optimised milk production, improved animal health and welfare. All this sophisticated equipment was installed last December by their local DeLaval dealer, Albert Jones from Ederney, Co. Fermanagh.

According to Henry these include "improved cow welfare and reduced labour required. Our cows are no longer stranding in yard for one to two hours waiting to be milked and milk yield in the freshly calved cows has improved significantly. Since the VMS system was installed yield has increased to almost 8,000 litres.

He says "There is less stress on the cows udder at peak lactation as the cows go to be milked more often. The VMS system has dramatically reduced the cell count to 82,000 from well above 250,000 and mastitis has reduced by over 90% for the whole herd."

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