Farmer/owner: Annette & Markus Holzrichter
Farm location: Halver, Sauerland, Germany
Farm name: Holzrichter
Herd: 100 Holsteins
Milking system: Fullwood Merlin
Date of installation: February 2009
Two years ago, the family installed a Merlin milking robot from Lemmer-Fullwood to take over milking in their parlour. Until then, 70 cows were milked in a 2×5 herringbone parlour in the old barn. After modifying the set-up, the Holzrichters expanded their herd to 100 cows. 65 of these are milked using the automatic system. The rest of the animals are still in the old barn where they go through the milking parlour. “We will continue to use this interim solution until our next stage of growth when we invest in another Merlin”, explains Markus.
The Holzrichters gave the matter a great deal of consideration before deciding on a Merlin from Lemmer-Fullwood. However, it was the clear benefits it offered that won him over in the end. “The technology is robust and mature and I can expand the system quite easily”, he says. It was very important to him to be able to exchange data with the herd management program (Crystal), the vet and consultants without any problems.
One definite benefit the system offers is the water boiler cleaning facility which only needs to interrupt valuable milking time briefly. In addition, the outstanding attachment procedure followed by the Merlin, particularly in the case of cows with closely spaced teats or restless heifers, has contributed towards the high level of performance achieved using the system. “The automated animal observation facility, with vitality profiles for individual animals via the precision pedometer, milk quantity measurement and the recording of milk conductivity, enables us to keep a close eye on the health of each individual cow”, says Holzrichter.
For months, the daily yield from the automatic milking system has usually exceeded 2300 kg or an annual yield of over 850,000kg from an average of 2.6 visits per day. Besides the automatic milking system, the main key to this success lies in the way the cows are managed. Annette and Markus Holzrichter put a considerable amount of effort into making sure that the cows feel at ease. They spend a lot of time looking after the wellbeing and feeding of the cows and keeping the stalls in good order. They have also set up a wellness area near to the automatic milking system in the form of a large stall containing straw. This part of the barn serves as a calving, recuperation and regeneration area.
The Merlin is equipped with an inline milk analysis system (Crysta Lab) that determines the contents of the milk taken from each cow during each milking session. Annette and Markus Holzrichter consider it extremely important for them to be able to observe their animals individually: with their automatic milking system, they can identify cows in heat, initial symptoms of disease such as the onset of ketosis or other metabolic diseases immediately at the click of a mouse. “It means that we can act sooner”, adds Annette Holzrichter.
“Our approach is to help the animal before it becomes ill. Since we have been handling the cows in this way, we have had far fewer problems with metabolic diseases and fertility. Also, the cows have become noticeably more persistent. The cows no longer get fat towards the end of lactation”. Once a day, the cows are given a fresh TMR ration by the mixer feeder and feed is distributed at least four times. “It is very important to have fixed times for feeding. It improves the utilisation of the automatic milking system”, explains Markus Holzrichter. The feed ration is sufficient for 30 kg of milk and on average, the cows produce 36 kg. “The difference of 6 kg is important to keep the cows moving”, he says. Each time they visit the automatic milking parlour, the cows are given up to 2 kg of tasty concentrated feed. “We have noticed that any change in the feed ration results in a change in the contents of the milk that is identified by the Fullwood inline milking system”, explains Holzrichter. The feed ration consists of grass silage, grain maize, brewer’s grain, lucerne, whole-corn grain and rape groats.
“The Merlin has made our work easier, especially the physical side of things”, concludes the Holzrichter family. Annette Holzrichter is particularly happy now that there is less physical work to be done in the milking parlour.