Farmer/owner: Jimmy & Kathryn O’Brien
Farm location: Croom, Co Limerick, Ireland
Farm name: Donaman
Herd: 65 Holstein-Friesians
Milking system: Fullwood Merlin
Date of installation: April 2013
The cows are given free access to fresh grass for up to 10 months of the year, with a grazing gate system automatically diverting cows to one of three grazing areas, with each zone accessible for 8 hours per day.
The availability of fresh grass acts as incentive for the cows to visit the robot an average of 2.5 times per day – in order to gain access to fresh grass, the cows have to pass through the robot where they receive up to 3kgs of concentrate feed.
Jimmy chose to install a robot on his farm after a lot of careful consideration. “I really enjoy milking,” he explained “but the old parlour hadn’t had a penny spent on it since it was originally installed.
“The robot lets me spend more time with the cows outside of the parlour, and lets me concentrate on managing the grassland to maximum effect. We can produce plenty of fresh grass in this part of Ireland so it makes sense for us to graze the cows for as many days as possible – that’s the cheapest way for us to produce milk.”
The Fullwood Merlin robot and three-way segregation gates were supplied and installed by Fullwood Packo Dealer – Willie McNamara, with Jimmy carrying out much of the construction of the new milking shed himself. Jimmy also constructed a network of cow tracks and a simple, but effective system of electrical fencing to take the cows to each day’s relevant grazing area.
The corner stone of the entire system is the Crystal herd management software which records data from each individual cow and determines when each animal is able to access the next grazing paddock.
Each cow is fitted with the latest Fullwood Pedometer+ to monitor activity and periods of inactivity, while the Merlin itself is fitted with a CrystaLab in-line milk quality sensor which provides an early warning of the onset of conditions such as acidosis and ketosis.
“Crystal generates so much data that it’s like having a vet on the farm every day,” Jimmy explained. “The information is so detailed and so accurate that we can tell which cows are in heat and which need additional treatment without even looking at them. Even though I no longer spend time with the cows in the parlour, I know more about each cow than ever before simply from looking at one page on the computer.”
Jimmy’s advice to anyone thinking of investing in an automated milking system is to take plenty of advice and not to be afraid of the technology. “It’s not a question of whether or not robots can milk cows as that has already been proven. It’s more a case of whether or not a robot will suit your lifestyle and your farm.”
Not all farms will be suited to grazing and milking through a robot, especially if the route for cows to travel to and from the robot is disrupted by a road crossing or excessive distance to the paddocks. But for those farms that are suited, there are some very beneficial gains to be achieved: “With this system I am producing more grass, more milk and have a lot more time to do my jobs. In addition, the cows have adapted well and are very happy with it”.