Farmer/owner: Graham Holmes
Farm location: Addingham, West Yorkshire
Farm name: Chelker House Farm
Herd: 90 Friesian Holsteins
Milking system: Two Fullwood Merlins
Date of installation: October 2013
Graham Holmes farms at Chelker House near Addingham, where his parents, Max and Ruth, established the Chelker Herd of Holstein Friesians. Until last year their dairy herd consisted of just 34 cows which were being milked through a Fullwood 5/10 swing-over herringbone parlour.
“When it was new in 1968 the parlour was at the pinnacle of milking technology,” Graham describes. “But after 45 years of milk production, it was showing its age and was the limiting factor in terms of overall milk output.”
Due to the herd’s small size, Graham knew he had to increase the scale of milk production for the Chelker Herd to remain viable, or face selling the cows. But he didn’t want to move out of milk production and therefore began researching ways of growing the herd without the need for extra labour.
“Other than my wife Janet who feeds the calves, I work alone on the farm so needed a system that would allow me to milk more cows and carry on building the contracting business without the need to employ any additional staff. Robots seemed to offer the perfect solution so I spent time visiting other farmers who had faced a similar predicament.”
In 2012 work began on reconfiguring the farm’s infrastructure and a greenfield site was built adjacent to the farm’s existing buildings.
The new facilities include a 200 by 100 foot cubicle house with 112 cubicles, each fitted with a 4-foot wide comfort mattress. The new shed also contains a straw-bedded segregation unit and 4-metre wide feed passages with automatic scrapers and self-locking head yokes.
The herd, which currently numbers 90 cows, is now housed for 365 days of the year and is milked through two Fullwood Merlin robots. “I bought 40 in-calf heifers across from Holland to double cow numbers and will use our own heifers and replacements to reach 110 cows in milk by November 2015,” Graham adds.
Since the robots were commissioned, the average number of visits has increased to 3.3 milkings per day, with the heifers regularly averaging in excess of 4 milkings per day.
“Ultimately milk yields should increase by at least 15% across the board,” Graham predicts. “But the new facilities have also provided health and welfare benefits.” For example, the robots milk each quarter individually to prevent any over-milking and reduce teat damage, while the CrystaLab system – which monitors milk quality and a selection of health indicators as each cow is being milked – gives an early indication of the onset of conditions such as mastitis, acidosis and ketosis.
From a business perspective, Graham has tripled the size of his herd without the need for any extra staff and without any additional increase in his own workload. “I had a wish list of things I’d like to change on the farm over the next 10 years and have successfully implemented all of those improvements in one go,” Graham concludes. “The farm is now properly equipped to allow the cows to realise their full potential and I’m confident we’ll see yields increase beyond 10,000 litres per lactation within the next three years.”