Farmer/owner: Clive and Pamela Davies
Farm location: Narberth, Pembrokeshire
Farm name: Treffgarne Farm
Herd: 150 Brown Swiss
Milking system: Two Fullwood Merlins
Date of installation: March 2012
Training their herd of 150 dairy cows to use a pair of robotic milking machines has enabled Clive and Pamela Davies of Treffgarne Farm in Pembrokeshire to unleash the full potential of the Brown Swiss breed, with average milk yields increasing and feed costs reducing.
Clive and Pamela Davies first brought Brown Swiss cows into the herd at Treffgarne Farm near Narberth in 1989 to make the most of the recently introduced milk quota system. “We wanted to produce more protein to get the most out of our cheese making contract, but didn’t want to see yields fall away,” Clive Davies explains.
Over the past 24 years Clive has built the Garne herd to 150 cows and 150 followers using European bloodlines and embryos from America and Canada. He has also seen his fair share of show-ring success, winning the breed championships at European and Welsh Dairy Events, such as Pembrokeshire County Show and the Bath and West Show.
The herd, which is housed all year, is on an all-year-round calving pattern and has historically been milked through a traditional 9/18 direct-to-line herringbone parlour, with twice daily milking taking a total of seven hours per day.
“A friend has successfully installed robots on his farm so we decided to investigate the potential of automated milking,” Clive describes. “We visited a lot of farms up and down the country, and gradually began to understand the benefits of managing the cows without having to physically milk them ourselves.
“We also realised that upgrading to a fully automated system would enable us to manage the herd more effectively and would allow the cows to reach their full yield potential.”
Soon after making the decision to convert to robots, the opportunity arose for the Davies’ to purchase two second-hand Fullwood Merlin robots. “We looked at various makes and models, and saw a lot of robots in action,” Clive adds. “We concluded that the Fullwood robot was the most robust and therefore the best suited to our Brown Swiss herd. Being able to buy a used pair at considerably less than the new price was an added bonus and made the decision to invest much easier to make.”
The robots were installed at Treffgarne in March 2012, and for the first few weeks were used as out-of-parlour feeders to get the cows used to entering and exiting the milking crate. Within a couple of months the entire herd had been trained and was being milked automatically.
As part of the conversion process, the herd’s total TMR diet was replaced with a partial TMR ration consisting of (per cow per day) 30kg grass silage, 3.5kg home grown caustic wheat, 3kg lucerne, 1kg molasses and 2.5kg of a high performance blend. This is fed alongside 0.22kg of cake per litre of milk produced, with the robots’ Crystal herd management software automatically adjusting the ration in line with each cow’s current yield.
As well as a 36% increase in yield, the farm business is also benefitting from a 17% feed cost reduction. Clive explains, “It’s a simple case of being able to feed the cows more accurately and getting more yield from each kilo of feed.”
The increased frequency of milkings has also resulted in fewer cases of mastitis with less than 10 cows in 100 showing signs of infection compared to 40 in 100 under the old regime.
“The robots milk each quarter individually which reduces the risk of over-milking,” Clive outlines. “They also have a backflush system which cleans the cluster after each cow has been milked to make sure there is no cross-contamination from one cow to the next. “They are also fitted with in-line conductivity and yield meters which make it easier for us to spot the early warning signs of any potential health issues so that cows can be treated before the problem escalates out of control.”
Clive admits that he is now a strong advocate of robotic milking and that he gets more satisfaction and pleasure from dairy production than at any time in his past. “The drudgery of milking twice a day has gone, and has been replaced by the ability to focus on the performance of each individual cow,” he says. Clive now spends a lot of time looking at the herd’s production data and performance charts using Fullwood’s Crystal herd management software, “I enjoy logging on each day to see how each animal is performing.”
Clive concedes that he never thought he’d see his cows regularly producing 40 litres per day, or that his heifers would routinely record 11,000 litres from their first lactation. “With the herd’s high yielders regularly peaking at 60 litres per day, the robots have given the cows complete autonomy over their own milking times and really switched on the full potential of the breed.”